Chemtrails Over The Country Club  Is Lana Del Rey's Ethereal Masterwork

Lana Del Rey is living proof that what’s old will come around, and what’s new isn’t always better. AnalogPlanet readers and writers alike are quite familiar with this sentiment. Nothing beats the magic of the vinyl record. As most music consumers jump between formats, I often ask myself, “Why move past something that works so well?” Lana Del Rey, an enthusiast of all things vintage, asks the same question, only with music.

Since the release of her Americana inspired breakthrough single, “Video Games,” in 2011, she’s gone on to release six studio albums. Worth mentioning is 2019’s Norman Fucking Rockwell, an album which continues to receive critical and commercial praise (AnalogPlanet’s Malachi Lui has it on his top albums of the 2010s list!). Now on her seventh release, Chemtrails Over The Country Club, the expectations are higher than ever before. Yet, after listening to the album repeatedly - perhaps religiously - over the past week, I feel that calling it stellar would do it no justice.

The roots of this album, like her others, are the acoustic tunes of the past that she so avidly appreciates. Lana pulls aspects of this music into her own, using its principles to translate her emotions into song. The opener, “White Dress,” shares the same “price of fame” theme as Joni Mitchell’s “For Free,” which closes this album. In the piano-driven introduction, she describes the freedoms taken by fame and wistfully recalls a time when she “wasn’t famous, just listening to Kings of Leon to the beat.”

It’s clear this is no up-beat, cheery pop album, though if you know Lana’s signature somber sound, this will come as no surprise. The closing line to “White Dress,” “it kinda makes me feel like maybe I was better off,” blends the song’s nostalgic vibe into a cohesive reach for the past. This longing for “normality” seeps into “Chemtrails Over The Country Club,” the album’s title piece that includes the lines “take out your turquoise and all of your jewels” and “meet you for coffee at the elementary school.” The tune intends to make the listener evermore grateful for what many consider to be “boring” activities.

“Tulsa Jesus Freak” describes a runaway lover. The song consists of various things this lover “should” do, eventually leading to the promise, “we’ll be white-hot forever.” “Let Me Love You Like A Woman,” builds off the previous track, showing Lana begging to abandon her past to pursue romance. The song mentions no particular escape destination, simply “eighty miles North or South will do,” a line which compliments the dreamy subject matter. “Wild At Heart” shares the sappy energy of the previous track, now saying “if you love me, you’ll love me, ‘cause I’m wild, wild at heart.”

“Dark But Just A Game” is the album’s centerpiece. It captures Lana’s old, aloof soul with dramatic songwriting and strikes a balance between modern sounds and trusted instruments. Inspiration came during a celebrity party, where Lana and co-writer/co-producer Jack Antonoff excused themselves to begin writing. In that context, the lyrics are stunning. “The faces aren’t the same, but their stories all end tragically” feeds from this backstory, making for an exhilarating Side B opener.

“Not All Who Wander Are Lost” returns to the album’s recurring theme of escapism. Similar to other songs here, this is a melancholic confrontation of how drab reality can be. In the end, the motivator of the “wanderers” is “just wanderlust”: a strong desire to journey.

“Yosemite” has a bit more backstory. Unlike all the Antonoff co-written tracks, this song credits Rick Nowels as co-writer/co-producer. It was recorded between 2015 and 2016, with the exact date unknown. Despite the time lag, it’s a haunting, emotional tune that’s a perfect fit for this album. Lana purposefully includes lyrics of absolution to prove how dreadful a relationship will always be. The best example of this is “seasons will turn, the world it will turn, the only thing we’ll turn is the pages of all the poems we burn.” Co-writer and vocalist Nikki Lane appears on “Breaking Up Slowly”, which acknowledges that “breaking up slowly is a hard thing to do,” yet it’s “the right thing to do.”

“Dance Till We Die” shows Lana “burdened by the weight of fame.” The title and main lyric, “we won’t stop dancin’ till we die,” suggests an unwelcome byproduct of fame is an absence of recovery time.

“For Free” circles back to the opening tune’s theme and neatly ties together the package. Lana friend pop-singer Zella Day begins the cover, introducing the song’s artists performing for no financial reward. Lana picks up the following verse, admiring the “one man band by the quick lunch stand.” Seeing this makes the artist question all she’s achieved. Lastly, soft rock singer Weyes Blood (born Natalie Mering) marks the separation between herself and those who go without reward, noting that they will never coexist.

Thanks to various engineers, Lana’s gentle, often silky voice is properly recorded. It’s not shocking to find that it sounds even better on vinyl. Every aspect of the recording will wow you, from dynamic range to soundstage depth. My own mother took notice of how spectacular this sounds, remarking, “You can really see the guitarist’s fingers dragging across the strings!” I consider this to be an exemplar of three dimensionality. What more is there to say?

Okay, there is a bit more, and that’s how awful MPO’s quality control is. The disc, marred by dozens of dents and scratches, is far worse than any sealed record I’ve ever bought. By Goldmine standards, this brand new copy ranks at VG (surface defects will be evident upon playing). That’s horrible, especially for such a well-recorded and enjoyable album. On the positive side, the record was hefty and the grooves concentric. Here’s hoping a replacement copy will arrive better pressed. I’ll report back on the the replacement’s quality, so stay tuned.

When it comes to physical media—especially vinyl— it’s important to remember that acceptance, not perfection is key, as there exists no perfect record. More important is how the music moves you. I find that Chemtrails Over The Country Club returns me to my musical roots, allowing me, in the age of theory and technicalities, to appreciate raw emotions. I see this album as a turning point for Lana Del Rey. Now she must decide if it’s wise to make peace with “success” or time to leave everything behind. It’s an intriguing question that she’ll hopefully answer on the next album. Until then, I suggest you take advantage of someone’s return policy (I’m looking at you, Amazon) and order a copy, for this is not a record to overlook.

Music Direct Buy It Now

(Nathan Zeller is a Beatles fanatic and budding audiophile found in frosty Western Canada. Currently, he’s swooning over this very record.)

Glotz's picture

I find the stream solid, but I imagine the LP is leagues better sound-wise.

Nathan Zeller's picture

Chris Gehringer took an already excellent recording and made it even better on vinyl. The only problem was their choice to press at MPO. My replacement copy arrives in two days, so I’ll let you know then how it is.

Glotz's picture

I'd like that! I do feel it's her most accomplished effort!

Nathan Zeller's picture

It's not much better. I may go for yet another replacement, but if that one doesn't do it I'm calling it quits.

Ethan's picture

It sucks that you got such a horrible pressing on an album that you've said is really solid. I'm hoping that the replacement you get comes in decent so I don't have to just fully give up on MPO.

Intermediate Listener's picture

Where is Malachi btw?

Michael Fremer's picture
He's taking a break to concentrate on school work. Hopefully he'll return soon!
Telekom's picture

I had a feeling Malachi was caught up with important stuff like school work. I hope we don’t have to wait too long to read his reviews again.

Jazz listener's picture

this review?

lilrecords's picture

in my opinion nfr is still her best work, but this is definitely a close second. the only song i didn't really like was white dress, her voice is so high and irritating on that song. but oh well it is what it is

WesHeadley's picture

I've been following Ms. Del Rey's work since her second album "Ultra Violence". Her growth in maturity as an artist is stunning over the course of her six albums. Each one shows strong progress both in songwriting and in her singing.

"Chemtrails Over the Country Club" is another superb album, Nathan's review captures the overall essence and vibe of this album well.

Sadly, I also agree with his comments on the pressing quality. This is, sadly, nothing new with Lana Del Rey vinyl. I first received my yellow vinyl copy (indie record store version). Visually it looked fine but, after cleaning with my Hannl RCM, the disc was still full of excessive surface noise and I would rate playback as about VG.

I then received the grey vinyl version from her website. It was exactly as Nathan described-- a total hot mess, even cut a finger on one of the many shards of plastic that was not even trimmed from the record's edge. Playback was much worse than the yellow.

I was ready to contact her website to report this when a second grey vinyl copy arrived unannounced, sent from her website the next day. Also pressed at MPO but upon inspection it was leagues better looking than the previous grey copy.

Upon cleaning and playing I can say this second grey vinyl copy is far better than the previous. Playgraded, I would say it was somewhere between a VG+ and NM. Acceptable, though I still think this release deserved a better pressing.

There is a red vinyl version selling at Target-- I have not heard it but might pick up a copy (assuming I still can) and see how it compares to other copies.

If you look at used prices of Lana's records, the colored vinyl versions are expensive despite the pressing issues that most collectors have long known about.

Get this record and prepare for musical bliss from one of the very best singer-songwriters working today. Lana Del Rey has matured into a very significant artist, can't wait to hear her new release coming this summer-- "Rock Candy Sweet".

Jazz listener's picture

one of a few artists I will purchase new releases from before I even hear them. Got this one on vinyl, and am not disappointed. A great follow-up to NFR. I also hear she is planning to drop another album in June. The quality of my vinyl copy was excellent btw.

Nathan Zeller's picture

Do you have the standard black pressing? There are various coloured versions that may have been pressed elsewhere. I'm really not sure though.

Nathan Zeller's picture

My replacement copy arrived today. It's certainly better, but still plays back VG, maybe VG+ if you're one of those generous Discogs sellers.

I'm wondering if I should go for another replacement. They do say the third time is the charm...

WesHeadley's picture

I purchased the black vinyl version from my local indie record store, cleaned it up thoroughly on my Hannl RCM and gave it a try. It plays as a VG+ at best with excessive noise littered throughout the album. It is close to my second grey pressing which I assume was an auto-replacement given the horrid quality of the first grey pressing that I had ordered from the LDR website.

There is a way to enjoy LDR vinyl without the excessive surface noise. I have a Sugarcube noise removal device from SweetVinyl-- a California company that produces a line of these devices with various options. It strips ticks and pops from any record (it will not / cannot remove non-fill noise).

Most of my records do not need this processing, but oh what a difference it makes on records like Chemtrails!

Michael informally reviewed this device on AP a couple years back. He had detected a small amount of compression while listening to certain acoustic recordings; I also noted the same thing, but after a couple of software updates this is no longer audible. At this point I cannot tell if the device is bypassed or in the circuit, and sometimes forget to disengage it (it has a true relay enabled bypass mode). It's the only way that I can listen to certain albums without being distracted by excessive noise from certain pressings.

It's shocking how much better a really poor pressing will sound with the surface noise removed.

So I'm able to enjoy Chemtrails after all with a little help from my Sugarcube. I still always prefer to find a clean copy of any given record but sometimes it's just not possible. You can learn about these devices from their website.

Steelhead's picture

Elizabeth Grant the little girl from upstate NY singing in a church choir sure went through a LA reinvention.

Fantastic talent and she has the pipes to sustain the attitude and moxie.

NFR is my favorite but I will listen to anything she puts out. Chemtrails is an excellent album.

happy listening

Esmiranda23's picture

The album features a mix of folk, rock, and indie pop influences, showcasing Lana Del Rey's distinctive word hurdle voice and storytelling style.