Friday, 18 July 2014

Let's talk about Death

Death. Something that most of us fear and unrecognisably determine as unavoidable. We are born into this world, we live, we die. Death is knowingly certain in our life. We await it's presence in a mind-numbingly measured manner. Yet, why when death rears it's ugly head, to which we have been expecting, does it shock us to the core and destroy our emotions? Through the vast multi-media platforms, we are consciously informed of death through a 140-character based tweet, or a Facebook message.
This way, we are alienated from any sense of emotion or spectacle of grief by hiding behind this platform; yet the specifically constructed words still hit you hard in the stomach faster than any bullet could. The aesthetic of what death entails allows for the emptiness of speech - what do you say, moreover what CAN you say? The mouth remains frozen but ideas float endlessly in the mind to what you want to say. Most of the time, a lot of swearing occurs. Then, of course, we have the grieving process. The mass affection of hugs, kisses, hand-shakes, hand-holding, nods, the list is endless. The tighter we squeeze, the easier it seems to get. We come together like a fire blanket to extinguish the flames of grief. Curiously they disappear, though not instantly, but over the passing of a long period of time. Lest we forget that the heart can burn brighter than any star or any sun in our solar system.
 Most importantly, the biggest expression of grief we have come to know (and show) is crying. Okay, not all of us, but the majority of the human race cry in the face of death or its effect on those around us. Once the tears start, it is difficult to control them and it becomes painfully apparent that they won't stop. But WHY? Why do we cry? Because the person in question is gone? But they're not! They are still out there, in our living breathing planet Earth. They are the wind in the trees, that rare summer breeze on a Saturday evening, the birds that tweet when the sun comes up, the rain that floods our streets, the books we find in the attic dated from 1973, the pictures we spontaneously take on a starry night, the jazz music that echoes from the local cafe; I could go on for hours. From death comes life, and every new memory created is due to the memories we hold close of the person we think we have lost. Our planet keeps turning, day after day, and it has never been so alive; our memories keep that person alive for as long as the Earth remains in orbit. Remember the birds you heard in the park on your first date, remember that copy of Wuthering Heights you had countless debates over (whether Heathcliffe was the ultimate romantic hero), remember that polaroid picture you took outside of your first house (and you may have blinked), remember that sound your daughter made when she looked into your eyes for the first time. I quote Shakespeare, who noted that "for in that sleep of death, what dreams may come" hereby enforcing the life that 'death' may bring; the new, imaginative memories that are created alongside the memories of the past. Shakespeare has taught me to no longer fear death, nor should I cry over those who have gone, because they are still very much alive - "My love, shall in my verse ever live young". They are born again in the light of new memory.  So, this is how I grieve. I keep silent and simply recall memory after memory.
And now I ask you, do not cry because they are gone, smile because they are still here. They are still beside us, for as long as you hold them and their memory close and preserve it forever; we can point and laugh at death. Death has lost. And amongst our laughter, our cherished angels will live forever.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Ultraviolence - Lana Del Rey

It's difficult to be a fan of the sultry Lana Del Rey these days isn't it? Deep within the materialistic world of glamour and expense that these songs so strongly resonate lies an artist that we seemingly know nothing about.  We cannot simply work out who 'Lizzie Grant' is. But with the renowned title of 'Queen of gloom' under her belt, is that necessarily a bad thing? Lana Del Rey serves up plates of mystery topped with a dressing of sultry sombreness; all without ever explicitly telling us who she is or what she's here to do.
       The less-is-more approach works in her favour with newest release 'Ultraviolence', as 2012 debut album 'Born to Die', albeit commercially successful, became too focused with swelling orchestral highs and overshadowed production values that often sheltered any identity the singer was trying to put across. Naturally the accusations of her authenticity came into question, many media outlets reported of plastic surgery, wealthy family, former record deals as Lizzy Grant etc; something not helped by the creation of the goo-goo eyed pussy cat that became Lana Del Rey. So really, we must importantly take note that Lana Del Rey is a construct, a persona, a living breathing creation obsessed with poetry, film noir and Lou Reed. I mean really, is someone REALLY that obsessed with American culture? But this is where the former Lizzy Grant succeeds, she invites us to speculate and admire her creation in order to figure out who she is, when the reality is Lana Del Rey alienates her identity and pushes us back to square one, to which we are still left scratching our heads. Genius.
       'Ultraviolence' enlists the help of Dan Auerbach (The Black Keys member/producer) to keep that veil of mystery high, and in turn helps turn the record into that rare creation where it outdoes its predecessor. It's darker, it's gloomier, it's RAW and it's bloody gorgeous. From the Stevie Nicks inspired coohs in 'West Coast', the Tarintino-inspired guitar solo in 'Shades of Cool' to the sultry jazz of 'Sad Girl', the identity crisis remains more present than ever, this time more grounded in the grittiness of the city  rather than the glamour and the high life offered by 'Born to Die.' Interestingly more constructs and persona are created in this correlation to identity, we have the hipster girl with "feathers in my hair" in 'Brooklyn Baby', the jazz singer in lead track 'Ultraviolence' and the daddy-lover in 'Cruel World'. If the sultry singer is toying with us wanting to know who she is, then she's making the rules.  The themes rarely break from tradition, loving an older man, sex, drugs, you know the drill, but it's HOW they are told through Rey's strikingly beautiful vocal ability. The strength of emotion told through 'Old Money', a song which could be a sequel to last year's hit 'Young and Beautiful' is a testament to her strength in vocal ability, but sadly shows her despair.  This influx of emotion and gritty production raise eyebrows into thinking whether the next Bond theme should be tackled by the mistress of gloom herself.
      There is a shimmer of happiness to be had however, in the surprisingly uplifting and deliciously catchy 'Florida Kilos', offering more sultry sassyness alongside head-swaying guitar melodies, making it a stand-out track and one to be played at festivals everywhere this summer. Tracks such as 'Black Beauty' bring back the gloom, to only fill out the record with the same-old dreary love musings Rey likes to impose on listeners, who have most likely heard the track due to it's leak early last year. Only this time, it sounds more polished.
     So where does 'Ultraviolence' leave us? Puzzled? Possibly. Alienated from who Lana Del Rey really is? Most defiantly. But the real beauty of the record, perhaps ironically, is how genuine it is. The vocal whisperings, the baby-doll musings, the gritty guitars and drums, it's the perfect picture to paint of Rey at her, apparently, peak of  raw despair that Auerbach has perfectly managed to capture in every musical instrument and arrangement. Rey is telling us, it's not pretty, it's not perfect, it's not Lizzie Grant but it's me (to a very very fine extent).