Tracking New Music Releases with Zac Wittman: Lana Del Rey, Justin Bieber, Lil Mariko, Mare Cognitum, Ringo Starr

Written By Zachary Wittman, Music Columnist

Another week of music that lacks a lot of high-profile releases, with those that did drop offering diminishing returns. The release well this weekend has been oddly dry, but here are some drops that might quench your thirst.


1. Lana Del Rey – Chemtrails Over The Country Club


Released March 19, 2021

3 Globes out of 5

Countless women in the indie-pop scene owe a lot to Lana Del Rey. She founded the style of whispery vocals that the scene has become rather infamously known for and has influenced many artists since. I need to tread lightly, as Lana has a large and active fanbase, but I have to be honest. I am not a big fan of Lana’s. Her questionable comments on social media the last few months about race, feminism, and politics aside, she has always been off-putting to me. Her previous album, “NFR!,” received widespread critical acclaim, but it sounded like all of her other stuff to these ears. I was apprehensive about reviewing an album from an artist I have yet to enjoy, but this is undoubtedly one of the biggest releases this week. That being said, “Chemtrails Over The Country Club” might be one of the worst album titles I have ever seen, but as an album, it is actually pretty fine.

If you are familiar with Lana’s music, you will not find any surprises here. She is continuing on with her soft-rock-infused Americana she has been doing in the last few years, and it certainly is pretty. Instrumentally, this album is lush and vibrant, thanks to Jack Antonoff, who played the majority of the instruments on this release. He was also responsible for Taylor Swift’s pair of albums last year, so he’s been on quite the streak. However, if you aren’t big on the hushed vocals, this album is a wash. Opener “White Dress” has Lana straining her voice to seemingly reach new levels of whispering, and it doesn’t exactly land. Many of the songs sound the same, but every once in a while, a track will rise above the other. “Wild At Heart” and “Not All Who Wander Are Lost” are two of her best tracks with some killer melodies. The last minute and a half of “Dance Till We Die” show that she really needs to drop the understated approach and give her vocal delivery more gusto, as this passage is truly incredible. “For Free,” a Joni Mitchell cover, is a nice closer, but Weyes Blood’s guest appearance further pushed the idea that Lana needs to change her vocal styling to something that engages the music more. 

Also, there is some terrible clipping throughout this album, but I’m not sure if Spotify is to blame, as some people haven’t noted the errors. This is largely an album stuck in one gear, but if you enjoy that gear, then this is perfect for you. There aren’t any bad performances on this record, save the aforementioned vocals on “White Dress,” but it doesn’t feel like there is a whole lot of passion in this one. Lana could’ve released this a few years ago, and you wouldn’t tell that she had any evolution in her sound.

Overall, this isn’t a bad album; it’s just par for the course for Lana. I enjoyed it more than I thought I was going to, but even I know she is starting to run this well a little dry. She is still talented and is obviously at the top of her game, and I just hope she stops boxing herself in for future releases.


2. Justin Bieber – Justice

Contemporary R&B

Released March 19, 2021

1 Globe out of 5

There are few artists I have rooted for in recent years more than Justin Bieber. Being a pop superstar at 16 has to have been rough, especially considering all of the hate he received. As he got older, he had several run-ins with the law, but I chalked that up to being young and dumb. I’ve come to enjoy his past hits, “What Do You Mean?” and “Sorry” on some level, but I still think he never really put his heart in his music. Of course, Bieber dashed any goodwill he had worked up when he dropped “Yummy” last year, which is arguably his worst song and one of the worst pop songs in recent years. He took to social media and begged fans to stream the song, but his album flopped despite a questionable Grammy nomination.

So now, in 2021, Bieber is given another chance. You’d never guess, but he already screwed it up before the album even dropped. French electronic duo Justice has filed a lawsuit over Bieber’s new album, but not merely because of the title. Justin’s “Justice” album cover has the ‘T’ stylized as a cross, which has been copyrighted by Justice. Now, you might say this is a coincidence, but Bieber’s team tried to contact the graphic designer of Justice’s work last May and eventually dropped all communication after initially reaching out. Thus, Justice issued a cease and desist for Bieber’s use of the logo in merch and the album cover.

So, what about the music? Well, Bieber has continued the trend that most male pop stars have been on: creating the most vapid, boring music possible. I don’t mean to be mean, but there is something that feels disrespectful about this album. “Justice” is supposedly about Bieber’s faith, but it doesn’t come across. Audio of Martin Luther King Jr. opens the album, and MLK gets his own interlude track. This is incredibly odd because no political statement is made on the album, so these quotes serve no purpose, and it feels incredibly disrespectful that they were included. The fact that the interlude ends with MLK saying “justice” so Bieber can cut to a cliche synthpop song about how he would die for a lover is biblical levels of tone-deaf hilarity. Every song sounds like background mall coffee shop music, and I don’t mean that in a complimentary way.

Nothing is said with this album. Not a single feature lands. Not a single chorus lands. None of the songs are even that long, but this 45-minute album feels like three hours… I give Bieber credit for doing something he hasn’t done before by hopping on the 80s synthpop revival train. However, it is painfully obvious he is imitating what The Weeknd did last year, but there is nothing close to the level of “Blinding Lights” on here for him to even make that work. I wish I could single out a single song here to compliment it or criticize it, but wow, this is lacking in anything that makes it stand out other than the fact it is under Justin Bieber’s name. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.


3. Lil Mariko – Lil Mariko

Trap Metal

Released March 19, 2021

4 Globes out of 5

I initially wasn’t going to review this, as I had another album slated for this spot, but I listened to this and had to share my thoughts. Lil Mariko is a Japanese artist who rose to prominence with her appearance on Dorian Electra’s “My Agenda” last year. The hyperpop community is overflowing with young talent, and it can be hard to keep track, but Lil Mariko genuinely shocked me. 

To explain trap metal, just distort the beats and have the rapper scream. Now, instead of your standard rapper, insert Lil Mariko. Her vocals switch between soft and childlike to distorted and abrasive, which provides one of the wildest experiences I have ever heard. The lyrical content pushes its themes to the max, with irony so bloated that I don’t even think 100 gecs are on this level. There are so many quotable moments on this album that would get me expelled from this school if I wrote them in this article. I haven’t intentionally laughed harder at music like this in a long time. I think I am starting to finally come around on this whole maximalist obscene internet humor thing. From the drill-influenced “Catboys” to the jaw-dropping chorus of “Shiny,” there is so much absurdity packed into these 16 minutes that I can’t help but try to give this thing more exposure.

The fact that the internet allows people my age to make music is probably the greatest thing on this planet. I can only imagine how cathartic this album must feel for a 20-something woman who is fed up with how she is treated online. I have to warn though, this is not for the faint of heart. Listen at your own discretion. I would say more, but that will spoil it.


4. Mare Cognitum – Solar Paroxysm

Atmospheric Black Metal

Released March 19, 2021

4 Globes out of 5

I, Voidhanger are a record label that specializes in extreme metal genres. Most of the work that I have bought from the label has been some of the top-tier metal I’ve heard in recent years. Mare Cognitum, one of the most consistent modern black metal bands, has unleashed “Solar Paroxysm,” their fifth studio album if you don’t count their collaborative albums.

Mare Cognitum consists of Californian-born and based Jacob Buczarski, who writes, performs and produces all of his own music. The extreme metal scene has a lot of similar people to Buczarski, but he is on another level. On this album, he shows just how skilled of a musician he is through his incredibly tight drumming and pummeling riffs that fill every inch of your speakers. He also excels as an extreme metal vocalist, with his harsh screams feeling more grounded and natural than the second wave black metal bands of the 90s while also being more powerful than many of the more modern groups. To think these long, winding, complex pieces were all recorded by one person, and not a full band is incredibly impressive.

With only five tracks that are each over 10 minutes long, “Solar Paroxysm” is interesting and engaging throughout its almost hour-long runtime. “Luminous Accretion” has a few wicked guitar solos throughout that should normally feel out of place in atmo-black, but the melodic nature of the passage gives the song an interesting twist. “Antaresian” is an apocalyptic opener that fits the cover art oh so well. Metal cover art is a large part of my enjoyment of the genre, so I have to mention that the album art is killer. I also have to give Buczarski props for how incredible this album sounds. It is one of the better-mixed metal projects in recent years, with none of the instruments drowning each other out, but rather working together to create a storm of aggression. 

However, this album isn’t the most intense lyrically. Metal, especially black metal, is known for its intense lyrical content, but this release trades in a lot of the earthly horrors and bloodshed for something more cosmic. The project’s whole aesthetic is based around the cosmos, and it makes reading the lyrics a lot more engaging than some other bands who stick to the more cliché topics of religion, war, gore and villainous acts. However, space has become somewhat of a cliché in itself, but Mare Cognitum circumnavigates this by just writing some dang good metal.


5. Ringo Starr – Zoom In

Pop Rock

Released March 19, 2021

3.5 Globes out of 5

There is nothing more that can really be said about Ringo Starr, so I’ll just jump right in. This five-song EP is actually pretty good! Ringo hasn’t had an amazing album in almost 50 years and hasn’t had a great one in almost 30, but he has always been enjoyable enough as he does his thing. “Zoom In” might be his best work in a good while.

The opening track “Here’s To The Nights” is a surprisingly emotional ode to friendship and good times passed, especially as it was recorded and dropped during the pandemic. The track features a whole host of backing vocalists, such as Paul McCartney, Sheryl Crow, Chris Stapleton, Dave Grohl and even Finneas. Yeah, that Finneas. “Zoom In Zoom Out” has a great melody, and “Teach Me To Tango” is surprisingly fun. “Not Enough Love In The World” is a pretty standard Ringo pop song about peace and love. “Waiting For The Tide To Turn,” the only song written solely by Ringo, is a reggae number paying tribute to The Wailers and other classic reggae acts. Aside from the crew of guest musicians, Ringo takes up drum duties and carries his own for his age.

This release is just Ringo being Ringo once again, but he always seems to be having fun. At 80 years old, you have to give him credit for how much heart he puts into his work, even if it comes off as corny most of the time. Ringo’s voice is also very processed, but even through all of the pitch correction, he still sounds like an old friend calling to check up on you. Check out this release if you want some lighthearted tunes to cheer you up, but it won’t make you think Ringo is the best Beatle or anything. If anything, it will make you smile and be glad we share a lifetime in which Ringo Starr still invites you to have fun with him.