Lana Del Rey finally makes a great album; a catch up with the latest from my favourite otherworldly duo; a musical snapshot of the year 2020 according to Triple J.
LANA DEL REY
Norman Fucking Rockwell!
Lana Del Rey has always been something of a frustration to me. I’ve always loved her signature dreamy, languorous sound and instantly recognisable vocal style, but a handful of brilliant singles aside, her songs just never felt strong or memorable enough, and I never had an inclination to buy her records. However she seems to have matured impressively as a songwriter on her sixth album, a sultry collection of sweeping, baroque piano ballads, psychedelic jams and nostalgic folk/soft rock.
She still sings about falling in love with bad men, but compared to her breakthrough hit Video Games she does it with a great deal more nuance and complexity, and her songs about oversized, live-or-die love feel rather more realistic. Likewise, her career-long fascination with the American archetypes has shifted into something darker, cutting through the idealised visions to reveal her frustrations and disenchantment.
DEAD CAN DANCE
These days I discover new releases in a highly erratic and disorganised manner, so it wasn’t a big shock to realise that I missed out on the latest album from one of my favourite acts. Released in 2018, Dionysus is a relatively short record, which might sound strange dedicated as it is to the ancient Greek god of wine, fertility, ritual madness and religious ecstasy. Surely it begs for at least three hours of unhinged musical excess and abandon?? I’d be up for that.
Still, a lack of ambition has never been something you’d associate with Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard, and their latest is a dizzying trip through the world’s musical traditions, featuring an array of instruments such as autoharp, Russian balalaika, Aztec flute, zils, Greek bouzouki… and birdcalls from Mexico. The gorgeous, vibrant textures and melodies are almost enough to compensate for the regrettable paucity of vocals, which is a sacrilege coming from a duo blessed with some of the most sublime voices in music. I still love the album, but hopefully Gerrard’s unearthly voice and Perry’s rich baritone make a comeback if they decide to make more new music together (please make more music together).
Triple J’s Hottest 100 Volume 28
It’s been a while since I got myself one of these yearly compilations. I still have Triple J on as a default radio station in my car, but it’s an increasingly rare occasion indeed when anything I hear on Triple J these days moves me or really catches my attention, and of course I didn’t exactly do a lot of driving in 2020 between the lockdowns and being unemployed.
This year I thought I’d get onto YouTube and check out at least a few top tracks voted into the top 100. I was all prepared to be a grumpy 40-year-old muttering about how today’s music sucks, but to my surprise I actually liked enough tracks to buy this compilation! There’s some good stuff from the likes of Billie Eilish, Tame Impala and Vera Blue, though the winning song is the kind of perfectly pleasant middle-of-the-road fluff that often wins this contest. The only overt references to 2020 that I could hear were a song about the joys of lockdown by the perennial favourites Hilltop Hoods, and a novelty remix Get On The Beers featuring samples from Dan Andrews, the Premier of Victoria.
I’ve noticed a trend when comparing the more recent Triple J Hottest 100 volumes to some of the older ones in my collection from the 2000s and late 90s. The old ones have a lot more tracks I’d be likely to skip, but also more genuinely memorable songs that stuck with me for years. The newer compilations are overall much more listenable from start to finish, but also a lot more homogeneous with few truly distinctive tracks. It’s hard to say which is better, a mix of highs and lows or a mix that’s consistently good?