Lana Del Rey, “Norman [expletive] Rockwell!” (Interscope)
Anyone as obsessed with California as Lana Del Rey is probably was destined for a Laurel Canyon phase, and that’s just where we find the singer on her stirring and emotionally risky new album, “Norman [expletive] Rockwell!”
She might be the decade’s least likely pop star: a believer in slooow tempos who concentrates on albums at a moment when bite-size singles predominate. But where others can struggle to outlive a viral smash, she offers fans entrée into a fully realized world. Which means she’s free to evolve at her own idiosyncratic pace.
The follow-up to 2017’s “Lust for Life,” which featured cameos by the Weeknd and ASAP Rocky, Del Rey’s fifth major-label studio disc surrounds her singing with stately piano and gently fingerpicked acoustic guitar; it’s a quieter, more hand-played effort than her earlier work that went for a hip-hop torch-song vibe and made her a favorite of Kanye West, whose wedding she performed at in 2014.
In “Bartender,” she describes a party where the “ladies of the canyon” are listening to Crosby, Stills & Nash, while “Venice Bitch” evokes that veteran band’s “Our House” as she sings, “You’re in the yard / I light the fire.” (Later she borrows the title of Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl.”)
For Del Rey, who famously assembled her breakthrough “Video Games” clip from found footage, all these references are the latest product of her ongoing rummage through California’s history.
Yet she and her primary producer, Jack Antonoff, are also looking back at Laurel Canyon’s folk-rock fantasy of domestic bliss as a way to deepen Del Rey’s own songs about reaching for, and occasionally attaining, the kind of romantic intimacy that’s eluded her in the past.
You wouldn’t call the album happy, exactly — heed that F-bomb in the middle of the title — but tracks such as the tender “Love Song” and “[Expletive] It I Love You” represent a clear shift from the gloomy fatalism that so distinguished Del Rey when she emerged in the early 2010s as an alternative to the cheerful likes of Kesha and Katy Perry.
MIKAEL WOOD, Los Angeles Times
Whitney, “Forever Turned Around” (Secretly Canadian)
A few years ago, drummer Julien Ehrlich and guitarist Max Kakacek had broken up with their previous band (Smith Westerns) and gradually struck up an informal songwriting partnership. In 2016, they released a single, “No Woman,” that captured their drifter’s melancholy and draped it over a gently insinuating melody. It led to a record deal, an album (“Light Upon the Lake”) and two years of international touring.
On the follow-up, “Forever Turned Around,” Whitney sounds like it’s trying to push the limits of just how much low-volume lushness a band can squeeze into a three- or four-minute song. The 10 tracks emerge from a web of interlocking melodies, with horns, strings, keyboards and guitar weaving counterpoint lines. It never feels overstuffed, because the rhythm section focuses on subtle swing rather than power.
GREG KOT, Chicago Tribune
• The Highwomen, “The Highwomen”
• Bat for Lashes, “Lost Girls”
• Chrissie Hynde & the Valve Bone Woe Ensemble, “Valve Bone Woe”
• Miles Davis, “Rubberband”
• Iggy Pop, “Free”
• Lower Dens, “The Competition”