Control Lit Issue #2

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Let us know what you think. Control Literary Magazine, Issue 2

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The Felice Brothers- Favorite Waitress Review

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FAVORITE WAITRESS TRACK LIST

1. BIRD ON BROKEN WING
2. CHERRY LICORICE
3. MEADOW OF A DREAM
4. LION
5. SATURDAY NIGHT
6. CONSTITUENTS
7. HAWTHORNE
8. KATIE CRUEL
9. NO TROUBLE
10. ALIEN
11. CHINATOWN
12. WOMAN NEXT DOOR
13. SILVER IN THE SHADOW

Famous for having recorded one of their first albums, in a chicken coop, the Felice Brothers’ latest effort Favorite Waitress brings just as much unfiltered Catskill Mountains grit. A mix of Americana and Folk, the new album makes for an easy listen. The first vocals on the album arrive in the form of a dog barking in the background, which invites the listener to pull up a chair with a cheap beer and a Styrofoam cup for a tobacco receptacle.

The band lost founding member and drummer Simone Felice after their last album, Celebration Florida, which some critics assert brought them back to the inspiration of earlier albums, namely that of The Band. Some other influencers for the album include the Felice Brother’s sometime touring partners, Old Crow Medicine Show and Justin Townes Earle.

“Bird on Broken Wing” is a haunting ballad of lost love and lost time. Ian Felice’s soft vocals give the track a despairing quality even in the face of hopeful lyrics about “the promised land where the wind is laughter”. This track currently vies with “Cherry Licorice” as the most popular track on iTunes, and deservedly so.

“Cherry Licorice” picks up the pace from the opening track. The band sounds like they’re trying to keep up with Ian’s lyrics, whose simple or stretched rhymes also feel impromptu.

“Meadow of a Dream” brings the listener some of the despair and insanity of backwoods life. The lyrics are inviting, coaxing one into this world. The only weakness of the song is a rather irrelevant reference to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

“Lion” is an upbeat number, yet plagued with simple rhymes that discourage more than one listen.

The story behind “Saturday Night” is challenging to piece together. A line like “I’m the new Elvis, covered in my enemies’ blood” leaves this listener puzzling along in the wake.

“Constituents” opens with a somber organ tune. Ian stays enjoyable sardonic of politics with his references of constituents agreeing. One of the slower songs on the album, it gives the sense of a social outsider looking in.

“Hawthorne” contains a few more jabs at politicians. The mournful tone of the track serves to lend the album a degree of artistic unity.

Picking up again with “Katie Cruel”, the song makes big jumps between its main body and the Rock-reminiscent chorus. This is one of the album’s stronger efforts lyrically, but the transitions are a bit jarring.

The tracks of the album are well placed, having a beat of their own as they shift from fast to slow. Rinse and repeat. “No Trouble” is perhaps the closest track on Favorite Waitress to a traditional love song. Ian makes many pleasant promises to his unnamed lover.

With “Alien” the listener is shifted into something of an existential crisis. The fiddle on this track is excellent, and holds the piece together while lifting it up out of the mud and the woods.
The final three tracks on the album, “Chinatown”, “Woman Next door”, and “Silver In the Shadow” continue the departure from the rest of the album’s ethos begun by “Alien”. The tracks grow louder and lose the earlier song’s sense of rustic simplicity, to their credit.

Overall, this album doesn’t merit more than a first few listens from most. While there is much to be said for a band staying true to their artistic roots and the artistic unity of an album, this work suffers from a lack of variety. This album was enjoyable, but will not have the lasting power of the band’s self titled 2008 album with its memorable tracks like “Frankie’s Gun!” and “Whiskey in My Whiskey”.

Rating: 6/10

Nate Duke is currently studying English Literature at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. His work has appeared in The Blue Hour Press, Black Heart Magazine, and the Ozark Line.

Review of David Gray’s Mutineers

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David Gray’s brand-new 11-track album Mutineers is a historic release, but we won’t really know this until his next album appears, tentatively titled The Ghost of Babylon. That album will be entirely acoustic and will twist and press every early Gray influence into lyrics and music of exceptional lucidity, clarity, and dexterity. We’re waiting.

            Long-time David Gray fans have known Gray was haunted after the stunning White Ladder, now 16 years old. He wasn’t haunted by fame, although that was hard, and although he raised concerns when he wound down his touring in 2002-2005 because of exhaustion. No, Gray’s haunting had to do with style. What should a song sound like if you were a true singer-songwriter in 1998? It couldn’t sound like Dylan or Donovan. It couldn’t sound like Petty. It couldn’t sound like Paul Simon. It couldn’t sound like the Appalachian genius Jean Ritchie. It had to have major-minor modulations, synthesizers, loops. Techno-folk. That would be true to our roots, right? We all live in a techno-folk world, in which everything and nothing is real. So, perhaps unintentionally, “Babylon” became the anthem of that world in 1998.

            The rest has been bizarre. Shine, The Best of the Early Years  (1993-1998) came out in 2007, the same year as Gray’sGreatest Hits. It’s ballsy releasing a “greatest hits’ album less that a decade after your first great-hit album, but it’s even weirder using Year Nine as a full-scale retrospective year. It’s like saying, “Hi, I’m David Gray. I was fully formed in 1998. Let me give you two memoirs of my years up to and including that final year. Then you’ll know everything you need to know.”

            I don’t mean to ignore the 2005 Life in Slow Motion or the 2009 Draw the Line, but I do think the memory-lane trip is why Mutineers has the feel of a come-back album. A generation earlier, its direct comparison would have been to Jackson Browne’s 1993 I’m Alive. But what is Gray coming back from? There are no hideous stories, no suicides or heartwrenching breakups: interestingly, his private life remains both relatively quiet and, as far as any reasonably not-nosy person can tell, relatively happy. So—why the comeback?

Comebacks can be “from” or “to,” and Mutineers is a comeback to the music of Gray’s formative years. It’s just that it’s the prequel album.

            Yes, Mutineers is very good. Yes, if you liked White Ladder, there are a handful of songs among the eleven here that will please you. But it is, fundamentally, a strange album. The title and title track are both giveaways: there’s a mutiny in this collection, not just a song about a mutiny. Gray is the mutineer, only it’s the Gray who wants to sound different. And he’s generally cagey, which is why the mutiny may succeed. The kicky opening track, “Back in the World,” serves as Gray’s anthem that he’s back on track, which might work if it weren’t a direct echo of Tom Petty’s 1991 “Learning to Fly.” Bad? Not in the context of this album. Interesting. We’re hearing Gray’s musical influences throughout. Paul Simon’s 1986 Graceland and Ladysmith Black Mambazo, for example, haunt the ninth track, “The Incredible.” Jackson Browne is hardwired into the structure of the album. And Gray haunts himself in “Mutineers” and “Beautiful Agony”: if you want the old Gray, he’s right here. But what’s so fascinating about the other voices in this album is that they’re only once (with Petty) explicit. Everywhere else they’re tentative, as if Gray were just emerging from a dream when he wrote this. In other songs, of course, Gray is relying on loops that could come straight from GarageBand, so self-consciously techno are they. It’s a karmic twist of fate that Mutineers and Lana del Ray’s Ultraviolence came out virtually simultaneously, since del Ray is a true techno-pop genius and Gray—though a genius in other ways—is out of his league here.

            After the 1984 Born in the USA and the 1987 Tunnel of Love, The Boss had reached a kind of creative limit, but he hadn’t tapped out the heart behind the 1982 Nebraska. He revisited that album with his 1995 The Ghost of Tom Joad, an absolutely brilliant piece that sounds on the one hand as if it should just be played in a dark parlor and on the other hand as if it could lay out the road map for Springsteen all the way up to the 2014 American Beauty. The Ghost of Tom Joad is the kind of album Gray has to produce. He is a brilliant songwriter, trapped in a particular mode still but listening—you can hear how closely he’s listening for any exit in Mutineers. He’s so close. I am first in line for The Ghost of Babylon.

 

Rating: 7 out of 10.

 

Tom Simmons is an associate professor of English at the University of Iowa. His seven books are all still available on amazon under the name “Thomas Simmons,” although he hasn’t read any of them since 2012.  A singer-songwriter, he plays twice a month at one of his two favorite venues, The Mill in Iowa City (the other favorite venue, The Hideout in Chicago, hasn’t actually invited him yet).

Ed Sheeran, X (Multiply) Review

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Ed Sheeran, who has a new album, x (multiply), coming out on June 23rd, seems to have escaped the let down many times felt by an artist on their sophomore effort.  While there may be a great many reasons for this, it is safe to believe that the main reason behind this ability is that Sheeran, who has been writing and recording his own original music since 2005, has already safely found his voice, and that this album is a sophomore effort in name only.

Coming some three years after his major label debut, +, x (multiply) delivers on a good many promises made in that debut album.  The singer/songwriter, who had made a great many of his fans swoon with his vivid lyrics, sweet voice, and skills on the guitar, still exists and seems to be stronger than ever in his talents.  Yet, seemingly wanting to further prove himself, Sheeran moves deeper into the pop and hip hop genres.

Sing, his collaboration with award-winning producer and songwriter Pharrell, seems to be destined to be a breakout hit for Sheeran, and is likely to receive prominent airplay throughout the summer, with the distinct likelihood of making it this summer’s anthem.  With a sound that some may not be familiar with from Sheeran, Sing is bound to attract new followers without alienating those that have already made Sheeran their own.

Sing, along with Don’t, Nina, Runaway, The Man, and the bonus track Take It Back, cultivate a more commercial Top-40 sound for the young Sheeran, who seems eager to stretch his wings, if not for his love of the genres, for the ability to prove that he is no one trick pony.  A mix of upbeat pop/twee tracks and attempts at spoken word/rap deliveries, Sheeran sometimes stretches beyond his ample abilities, and leaves the listener wondering for whose benefit is this being done.  For those looking for the man and his guitar, the remaining eleven tracks are for you. 

Of these more traditional ballad offerings, I’m a Mess, One, and Tenerife Sea standout as the most successful.  Beautifully written and sung, they bring a centering to an album that at times can feel as though it is going in too many directions at once.  This may happen because of Sheeran’s ambitious undertaking with x (multiply), or it may be a result of the myriad of strong voices that get a hand at producing on the album.  As already mentioned, Pharrell produced Sheeran’s already successful single, Sing, and also was at the helm for Runaway.  Snow Patrol’s Johnny McDaid produced the singles, Thinking Out Loud, Nina, and Photograph.  And last, but not least, legendary producer Rick Rubin lent a hand with Bloodstream, Don’t, and Tenerife Sea. 

Also found on the various extended editions of x (multiply) are two songs that Sheeran performed for movie soundtracks.  The first being I See Fire, which was part of the soundtrack to Peter Jackson’s hit, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, and the second being All of Our Stars, from the film adaptation of John Green’s successful YA novel the Fault in Our Stars.  The latter sure to endear Sheeran to an ever-growing legion of young fans.

For all of its possible missteps, Ed Sheeran’s x (multiply) delivers on enough of its promises to prove to make this new album just as successful as Sheeran’s last.  It is certain that some of these singles will be inescapable by summer’s end, and that may very well be a good thing.

Rating: 7.5/10

 

David Giver is an adjunct professor at Armstrong State University in Savannah, GA.  David is a graduate of Goddard College with an MFA in Poetry, and is the author of the recently published poetry collection, A Slow Education.  David is also an aspiring novelist.

The Sam Smith Review

ImageSam Smith is no stranger to the spotlight having won the “Critic’s Choice Award” at the BRIT Awards early this year, reaching the top 10 billboard charts with his single “Stay With Me” and taking the number one spot on the billboard with his single “Money on My Mind,” which all came before the release of his debut album In the Lonely Hour on the 26th of May.  It release in the US this past Tuesday after being such a hit overseas.

This diverse album shows off a variety of styles that come with the different artists Smith had worked with in the writing process, ranging from synthpop to blues to influences of Motown.  A lot of the instrumentals display a minimalist style, usually consisting of simple, resonating, chord progressions with guitar and piano such as “Stay with Me,” “Not in That Way,” and “Good Things.”  This is an important part of Smith’s technique because he is a very lyrical writer and music that is lyrical generally should not have the chance to be out-shown or distracted by intense instrumentals.  Surprisingly, unlike many modern artists, he does not use drums on many songs, and the rest have very open simple beats (baring “Money on My Mind” and “Life Support” since the drum beat was likely written by Two Inch Punch, the produce of the song).

Sam is a fantastic singer, but his talent goes deeper than the surface.  He uses several different types of singing styles which are prevalent through many of the genres he takes influence from.  Many R&B artists sing with a smooth falsetto which, when mastered, can be a signature sound, like how Frank Ocean is known for his smooth, high vocals.  However, Sam Smith uses a nasal voice as well, which is exclusively how Cee Lo Green sings and is a dominant technique used by his musical idol, Amy Winehouse.  Nasal voices are commonly thought of as whiny and annoying but they have surprisingly been used for many years in genres stretching from gritty Texas blues to smooth jazz and R&B. 

The album opens up with “Money on My Mind,” which was an outlier to the album due to its heavily synthesized and complex instrumentals that clashes with the simple tracks that come after it.  This is largely due to the previously mentioned producer, Two Inch Punch, who wrote most of the instrumentals for this song.  The instrumentals were too overbearing for Sam’s voice to have to fight for attention.  The lyrics, however, are much more to the emotion style of Smith, following themes like “I do it for the love,” which reflects how he writes music because it is his passion, rather than for money, which juxtaposes many recent artist that write about the fame and glamour of being a musician.

The next track, “Good Thing,” puts Smith’s mindset from when he was writing this album into perspective by showing the longing he had for a lost love as well as the morbid thoughts that are packaged with heartbreak.  In the first line, smith says, “I had a dream I was mugged outside your house,” displaying both of these ideas very vividly.  This track features the guitar work of Francis White, with its consistent plucking that still stays true to the minimalist approach that Sam has been working for throughout the album.

The third song became a number one hit in the UK.  “Stay With Me” is the perfect example of Smith’s lyrical longing for the love that he lost, the resonant instrumentals, and fondness for soulful music.  If any one song off the album should be considered the essence of Smith, it is this song.  Good albums always revolve around a theme or an idea and has a song to represent this, and it seems like this album was written around this song.  Overall, the steady beat, lovely vocals, and momentous chorus are why this song has essentially become the face Sam Smith.

The fourth song, “Leave Your Lover” is most distinguishable for its intense lyrics where Smith begs his former love to come back to him and leave the person they are with, but he knows that will never happen.  Song five, “I’m Not the Only One,” shares this main idea, but with much more involving instrumentals and Smith shows off his skill for nasal singing.  After that, “I’ve Told You Now,” goes into the troubles he had in his previous relationships a bit.  Unfortunately, slow, resonant, piano chord progressions and a guitar that alternates strumming and picking the same progression can get repetitive, so this central part of the album gets a bit mundane.  There is little that makes these songs stand out amongst the rest of the album.  Even though they have well written lyrics, and the background does its job to support the lyrics, rather than outshine them, it makes them fairly insignificant to the whole album.

Similar to “Money on My Mind,” “Like I Can” is another odd ball track that does not seem to fit with the rest of the album.  The instrumentals are a lot more centered towards pop alternative, with a tight, very present drum beat and a steady palm muted guitar.  The lyrics still tie in with most of Sam’s other lyrics but the instrumentals do not fit his singing style, which needs the support from music.  This song simply has too much going on for Smith’s voice to excel in what it does best.  It is like how when an instrument solos, all the rhythm parts drop back.  Sam’s voice is constantly in a solo, and if the whole band is playing at full velocity then his solo loses its effect.

“Life Support,” song eight, may be the most iconic song on the album besides “Stay With Me.”  Unlike “Money on My Mind,” this song incorporates the synthpop style that Two Inch Punch is known for in a way that is not overbearing and out of place.  This lets it be a song that is radio applicable, as most of Sam’s music is not very catchy.  Not to say his music is not good, but most of his music is not something that is going to be anthems of summer.  “Life Support” and “Stay with Me” are both catchy while still under his usual style.

Nearing the end of the album, “Not in That Way” is the most unique song on the album while still sticking to the essence that Smith has been working so hard to cement into this album.  The only instrument in the song is a mellow, bluesy, guitar, which supports the minimalist style but it so different because Sam never ventures that far into the blues genre or has that style of guitar playing.  The lyrics reflect an issue that Sam has a lot, where he falls in love but is not loved in return.

The last song on the regular album is “Lay Me Down” is a showcase track for his voice.  He shifts in between a high, nasal, soulful voice and a deeper, growly, voice which he hasn’t used yet on the album.  Then he picks up the music a bit, giving it a pulse at the bridge.  It is one of the more upbeat songs on the album, and as the last song, it provides a solid ending so the listener leaves on a positive note.

The first bonus track is “Restart,” which features 80’s pop instrumentals that are low key enough to complement his voice.  It is also a good example of Smith’s superb falsetto skills, going higher than on any other track on the chorus.  Overall, the song is a refreshing change from the low key instrumentals that still remains mellow enough to be included in this collection of his work.

The next two songs, “Latch (acoustic)” and “La La La,” are songs that featured Smith but were released by other artists.  Smith takes his own approach to “Latch” by Disclosure, making it like the rest of his song, soft and acoustic, while still keeping the pop feel that the original had.  If you didn’t know better, you would assume it was his own song.  “La La La” by Naughty boy was kept the same as it was when he released it, but the instrumentals still match his calm style.

The last new song on the album, “Make It to Me,” is very similar to “Stay with Me” in its melody and instrumentals.  It is hard create any sort of diversity between songs when the only instruments used are piano and guitar.  He is hindered more in the way he uses these instruments to create ambience.  As in the center of the album, his songs start to blend together again.  There are distinguishing factors such as a guitar solo towards the end, but other than that, there is not much to make each song stand out from each other.

The next song is a version of “Stay with Me,” where Smith is accompanied by Mary J. Blige.  Oddly, they do not harmonize until the outro of the song.  Mary only does one verse and a couple background trills.  This is odd because Mary J. Blige is an R&B legend, and her talent severely outshines Sam Smith’s, and she does not sing very much throughout the song.  It was likely a publicity stunt to promote Smith rather than an actual artistic attempt for two wonderful singers to come together.

The last song on the deluxe album is the title track, “In the Lonely Hour.”  It is odd for an artist to have the song the album is named after as a deluxe album exclusive.  The song is closer to pop than R&B due to its upbeat chord progression.  It still follows Smith’s traditional style of open piano and no drums to progress the song.  The lyrics, again, reflect the general ideas of the album, the longing for lost love and the depression that comes with it.  This song best personifies his idea, which is likely why the album was named after it.

Overall, each of these songs could hold up well on their own.  Each song is beautiful in the way that it is written and performed.  However, Sam does not have a very diverse style, and, while the album itself is very diverse, many of the songs blend together due to them lacking any features that distinguish them from each other.  There are also a few songs out of the album that do not fit Smith’s style of writing instrumentals or his voice.  The album was setup strange in general, having one of the outlier songs first, and by having “In the Lonely Hour” as a bonus song in the deluxe edition instead of on the regular album.  Also, the album is diverse, but in the way that it strays too far from the majority if the album so that it distracts from the work as a whole. While Sam does have a variety of singing skills, he does not have the experience to utilize them to their full potential. 

For as much criticism as I give, I also must applaud his minimalist attitude which is so rare in music.  It takes a lot of skill to write music that is solely held up by vocal abilities and lyrics.  This is what makes Sam Smith as mystifying as a musician.  Most songs need instrumentals to support the vocals so if the lyrics or the vocals are not powerful enough to sustain the song, then people can still get hooked on the instrumentals.  However, the reason most artists do not do this is it is extremely difficult to pull off, and even though Smith did a wonderful job with this album, it is still far from a perfect album.

 

Rating: 7/10 

 

Christian Page is a student from New Mexico that has been studying music since he was nine years old.  He has made the state youth orchestra for both the upright bass and classical guitar.  He’s been studying poetry for the past year.

Ultraviolence Review by Vanessa Willoughby

 

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ULTRAVIOLENCE TRACKLIST (DELUXE)

1. CRUEL WORLD

2. ULTRAVIOLENCE

3. SHADES OF COOL

4. BROOKLYN BABY

5. WEST COAST

6. SAD GIRL

7. PRETTY WHEN YOU CRY

8. MONEY POWER GLORY

9. FUCKED MY WAY UP TO THE TOP

10. OLD MONEY

11. THE OTHER WOMAN

12. BLACK BEAUTY

13. GUNS AND ROSES

14. FLORIDA KILOS

 

ITUNES BONUS TRACKS

15. IS THIS HAPPINESS

16. FLIPSIDE

 

This past Tuesday marked the release of Lana Del Rey’s sophomore effort, Ultraviolence. A moody, melodic album that aptly utilizes the production talents of The Black Keys’ guitarist Dan Auerbach (he’s credited on nine out of fourteen tracks on the Deluxe edition), Ultraviolence unapologetically embraces the labels heaped upon her by mainstream critics and indie pundits alike: cinematic, lush, dark, depressed, romantic, dreamy, longing. To say that these journalists are exaggerating or distorting her image as a dark horse within mainstream pop would be incorrect. Del Rey is David Lynch’s answer to a pop star, sometimes posing as the young woman singing from inside of the radiator, sometimes posing as Laura Palmer. She is subversive as an artist because we know exactly what to expect; some think that if they believe with enough sincerity, Del Rey will pass some kind of authenticity test with flying colors. Whether or not you find the Bohemian parts of her backstory the stuff of complete self-made mythology or face value truth, Del Rey knows how to cater to her strengths. Ultraviolence uses many of the themes found in her debut. There’s talk of a “pretty red dress” and “diamonds and pearls” and bad men who stomp on hearts. It’s true to form; the album relies on nostalgia and the allure of retro-chic. Del Rey’s fascination with heightened Old Hollywood glamour is part of what draws in loyal listeners.

 

Following the release of Born to Die, Del Rey expressed doubts about making another album. The period of uncertainty didn’t last too long; she began work on Ultraviolence in February 2013. As the campaign for the new album unrolled, it became clear that she’d traded pounding bass and hip hop beats for woozy guitars, but the singer was the same “character.” Del Rey’s persona is a carefully tuned vow to never break character. The artist, formerly known as Lizzy Grant, aka government-issued name Elizabeth Woolridge Grant, crafts her musical narratives to reflect literary behemoths such as Nabokov, Hemingway and Whitman. Her literary interests are a driving force behind her work and it shows; the subjects of love and death are grandiose and interchangeable.

 

The opening track, “Cruel World,” is the perfect mixture of The Black Keys and Del Rey’s cinematic writing tendencies. Her voice wavers between Marilyn-Monroe-husky-babydoll to wailing. As the longest track on the album running 6:39, it’s a near seven minute juggling act of menacing defiance and resigned disappointment.

 

The song’s lo-fi surf-rock vibe sets the tone for the subsequent tracks. The album luxuriates in melancholy and fantasizes about the many ways that love can be fatal. “Ultraviolence,” the title track, is smartly placed after the emotional heaviness of Cruel World. In an obvious nod to inspirations, there’s a line from “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss)” by 60s girl group The Crystals. There’s been speculation that “Ultraviolence” is an allusion to A Clockwork Orange but it’s neither been confirmed nor denied. Regardless, “Ultraviolence” fits nicely within the musical canon of Del Rey: the collision of love, submission and power.

 

In “Shades of Cool,” there’s a James Bond song bubbling beneath the surface. This reference isn’t meant to be underhandedly sarcastic; the production and Del Rey’s vulnerability call upon the sweeping, grandiose inflection of “Diamonds Are Forever” and “Nobody Does It Better.”

 

By the time we hit “Brooklyn Baby,” Del Rey has flung herself into the deep end of her iconography obsession. The song, originally intended to be a collaboration with Lou Reed before his death, conjures a sepia-filtered Brooklyn landscape that even the crew from Lena Dunham’s GIRLS probably would have a hard time recognizing. Instead of the Whole Foods hipster of 2014, it’s an amphetamine hazy hipster living through debauchery familiar to Burroughs and Kerouac and Ginsberg. Although she’s got a “boyfriend in a band” and she smokes “hydroponic weed,” Del Rey croons about “the freedom land of the seventies” and “getting down to beat poetry” and having a rare jazz collection. It’s songwriting enjoyably drunk on hypersaturation.

 

“West Coast” refuses conventional pop song structure, creeping into a slower tempo at the chorus. It also serves as a successful example of what happens when Del Rey’s film noir aesthetics are shaped by like minded direction. When asked about Del Rey, Dan Auerbach told the New York Times, “They [her songs] felt old and new at the same time.”

 

Although it starts off with biting lyrics that will surely encourage raised eyebrows from those who accuse her of promoting misogyny and antiquated gender roles (Me and my mistress on the side/It might appear to fools like you), “Sad Girl” starts to get laborsome around the middle and stretches into a downtrodden five minutes. “Pretty When You Cry” is a stripped down and simplified rehash of obvious Del Rey tropes. Things start to pick up again with “Money Power Glory,” which Del Rey said is a flippant, sarcastic response to her naysayers.

 

If “Money Power Glory” is a subdued response to her more vocal critics, “Fucked My Way Up To The Top” is a middle finger in the face (I’m a dragon/You’re a whore). Or if you browse the gossip blogs, it could be a diss track hand delivered to a certain Born This Way singer.

 

The tenth track, “Old Money,” utilizes atmosphere building and is faintly reminiscent of “Bel Air” in the sense that it creates rootless yet Cinemascope ready and approved images (blue hydrangea, cold cash, divine/Cashmere, cologne and white sunshine). The inclusion of “The Other Woman,” a cover of a Nina Simone song, certainly fits with the running theme of desperation by the hands of men. Del Rey’s voice takes on the crackle of a loneliness that threatens to be paid in tears.

 

The final three tracks, “Black Beauty,” “Guns And Roses,” and “Florida Kilos” are probably the weakest efforts. By the time you’ve listened to the proceeding eleven tracks, these last three are like a coma that follows a high-octane sugar rush. The imagery and narratives venture drop all pretense and mimic flash-in-the-pan summer blockbusters. The Harmony Korine assisted track, “Florida Kilos,” boasts a drug-fueled delirium that feels like a tacked-on leftover for the Spring Breakers sequel.

 

 

The first iTunes bonus track, “Is This Happiness,” is a restrained yet compelling mixture of literary iconography (You think you’re Hunter S. Thompson) and the disingenuous splendor of glamour (I’ve been to Hollywood Hills taking violet pills). The piano arrangement coupled with the appropriate timing of strings are somewhat reminiscent of “Young and Beautiful,” swirling around Del Rey’s tortured torch song vocals. The bitter power struggle between the song’s protagonist and the nameless male paramour in question calls to mind the dysfunctional relationship of Fitzgerald’s Daisy and Gatsby or even the author himself and Zelda. However, with the insertion of modern slang (You like to rage, don’t do that), Del Rey succeeds in creating a song that cannot be pinned to one decade. The repeated chorus of “Is this happiness?” is a question that further emphasizes the chaos and the enormous tension within the relationship, hinting that the answer is a disappointing no.

 

 

The second iTunes bonus track, “Flipside,” is a serving of fuzzy garage-rock guitar with plenty of falsetto. Del Rey noted that California and New York City helped shape this album; “Flipside” straddles two opposing coasts, ending on an ethereal reverberation of a guitar chord.

 

At this point, if you dislike Del Rey, Ultraviolence is never going to win you over. After all, if Del Rey prefers to discuss space travel and Tesla over feminism, what makes you think she even cares about the opinions of her detractors? Perhaps the depiction of love and relationships on Ultraviolence are too morbid to appeal to fans of Adele and is too invested in the stars of days past to ever attract the people clamoring for club bangers. Despite the occasional fumble, Ultraviolence is the result of the master temporarily taming the muse with a little help from encouraging mentors.

 

 

Rating: 7.5/10

 

Vanessa Willoughby is a graduate of Emerson College and The New School. Her work has appeared on The Huffington Post, Nerve.com, Bitch Media, Fault Magazine, and The Toast.