Essentials: Lana Del Rey ‘Ultraviolence’

Lana Del Rey Ultraviolence

Lana Del Rey Ultraviolence

After the critical drubbing she withstood from late 2011 through early 2012, apparently beaten down by the controversies surrounding her background and her ability or otherwise to actually sing, she kept implying that she was going to quit music. Thankfully, she had changed her mind, she somehow survived relatively unscathed, even when the constant barrage of criticism wore her down emotionally. Despite the onslaught, she’s emerged triumphant on her third LP Ultraviolence.

Working mostly with the Black Keys’ frontmen Dan Auerbach as producer, Del Rey imbues this record with a narcotic resonance that gives the singer and her songs room to exhale, to swell and swirl into the stratosphere. The addition of producer Dan Auerbach enhances Ultra‘s air of everyday menace, and finds Del Rey digging deeper. Here, Lana herself sounds as beautifully seductive and slow as ever, her vocals washed out in heavy reverb and what sounds like vintage 50s production techniques. The spacey, sinister groove of ”West Coast” proves that has a noirish sensuality, which opens into a chorus that mimicks the heady rush of a first toke. The whole thing feels more timeless and less gimmicky than Born to Die, filled to the brim with depressive elegance and thankfully devoid of many of the hip-hop elements than dragged the aforementioned album down. What’s so impressive, though, is that most of this album’s songs are in extremely slow droning tempos and nostalgic.

However, I’d like to argue that the repetitive tempos aren’t really the point of this record. It’s all about the dynamics, the vocals, the layers of sound… basically, everything built around the beats. The best thing about this entire record, the reason why the instrumentation and overall vibe work so well, is because everything is so intimate and reflective. As the closing R&B-influenced tune “The Other Woman” closes the experience out, there’s a genuine feeling of finality and beauty that stems from Lana’s emotive crooning; it’s the kind of sound that influences someone to spin the record for a second time right after it ends. Ultraviolence is so multifaceted and genuinely beautiful that its replay value is simply extraordinary. For instance, you might initially be hooked by “Brooklyn Baby”‘s calm and subtle guitar chords and how they combine with Lana’s vocals, only to return and hear the little dynamic changes here and there when aided by the underlying synthesizer work.

The reality is that her contralto voice is now quite competent in a live setting, and on Ultraviolence, Del Rey’s vocal delivery shows increased maturity and assuredness. The haunting chorus of “Shades of Cool” and the reverb-drenched harmonies of atmospheric bonus track “Guns and Roses” unexpectedly recall the gorgeously etherial vocals of Cocteau Twins singer Elizabeth Fraser. Del Rey has never sounded better. The hip-hop aesthetic that has disappeared almost entirely been substituted for something hazier, grittier, and more guitar and drum-laden, save for the exquisitely indelible “Old Money” (maybe my favorite song of the bunch), with an orchestral arrangement by legendary film composer Nino Rota, of The Godfather trilogy fame. Del Rey has always had a way with a melody, but her songwriting’s infinitely more accomplished here than anything on Born to Die.

Ultraviolence probably is a definition of a grower, and this record has something Born to Die never had: more reflection. It comes across as personal. It comes across as purely genuine. And most of all, it comes across as Lana fitting more snugly into this identity she’s been carving out for herself. Lana Del Rey hasn’t quite reached the celebrity status to be deemed an icon, but her obsession with them is such that it will be interesting to see if one day, she’ll join their ranks in the public consciousness. In the interim, Ultraviolence is a beautiful argument for her relevance and her potential longevity. (Text Teuku Ajie)

Essential Tracks:

1. West Coast

2. Old Money

3. Money Power Glory

4. Sad Girl

5. Black Beauty