Aside from the introspective confessionals of the early Seventies West Coast folkies, has any musical generation sounded so glum? The misery that pervades so much contemporary Western sound makes you fear for the youth. The reasons for this would seems obvious, these are troubled, troubling times after all – the never more-miserly wealthy, the regression to fascist intolerance, Diego Costa – but nobody’s singing about such things. It’s personal, of course, as the vast majority of pop music always has been, and likely always will.
Although on to their third album, Lily & Madeleine are young, 18 and 21 respectively, and the Indiana duo seem to inhabit a world of loss and longing, too, even as they write about “the experiences of being a white woman and a college-age kid in the 21st century”. Fortunately, they have beautiful voices with which to articulate this – soft, pliable expressive harmonies that simply glide. Their background is of rootsy, country stock and their songs are still strongest when there’s a little grit under the fingernails, when feet are on the earth: ‘For The Weak’ is defined by a slack-Americana guitar refrain, and the excellent ‘Midwest Kid’ is haunting alt-country noir, Lily & Madeleine singing about their “white boyfriends” to a lazy hip-hop shuffle also put to good use on persistent opener ‘Not Gonna’ (“Everyone’s expecting me to say I’m sorry but I’m not”).
Shame, then, that most of the album’s midsection is lost to that instrumental palette so prevalent now – ponderous in tempo, compressed, restrained melodic trills set to swells of breathy synths or strings. This sound is like a simulation of sadness, it’s automated melancholia – no blood or sweat, just tears. The repressed, deferential backing doesn’t dilute the pair’s vocal impact exactly, it just puts huge pressure on them to be the stars, and demands exceptional songs. The latter, Lily & Madeleine save till last, with the stirring ‘Nothing’, whose melodically adventurous vocal cleverly changes mood from devastation to defiance as the instruments build orchestrally beneath: “Losing you to her was harder, than anything else/Since you left I finally see/What you are to me/You’re nothing”. A track like this goes some way to explain what this group and so many of their peers are seeking to convey: comfort from sorrow and Lily & Madeleine have achieved it beautifully with ‘Nothing’. A reason to be cheerful, perhaps?