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Fenne Lily Dissects Heartache and the Self in ‘BREACH’

4.5 Stars

"Breach" album cover.
"Breach" album cover. By Courtesy of Fenne Lily/Dead Oceans
By Sofia Andrade, Crimson Staff Writer

It’s fitting that amid a pandemic, we turn to music that reflects our isolation. Rather than turn to saccharine, synth-heavy tracks about nights out on the town, we’re drawn to songs that look inwards. For example, it’s no surprise that the arguable album of the summer is Taylor Swift’s stripped-down release, “Folklore.” After all, it stayed at the top of the Billboard 100 for the first five weeks after its release.

“BREACH,” indie artist Fenne Lily’s latest album after her 2018 self-released debut, “On Hold,” is exactly that type of album. It is the kind that only seems more compelling when the rest of the world is quiet.

At its core, “BREACH” is an album about being alone. It’s also an album overflowing with the catharsis that comes from the acceptance of that loneliness, spurred on by Lily’s own striking self-awareness.

Starting her career with the occasional gig in her hometown of Bristol, England, the folk singer-songwriter has since found a home in the American indie music scene after signing with indie record label Dead Oceans — the same label as indie icon Phoebe Bridgers — in March. She released her sophomore album, “BREACH,” on Sept. 18.

The album follows Lily over a period of mourning for love found, lost, and often found again, both for herself and for past significant others. Often, the lyrical representation of these lost feelings of love in the album is raw to the point of sounding spiteful. At other points, the album’s relentless vulnerability means that she sings of her own shortfalls instead. Lily’s soft and heavenly vocals mediate the space between the two.

“We talked about getting married / And now I hate your guts but I can't shut up,” Lily sings on “Birthday,” her voice floating above an ethereal string section as she criticizes the pitfalls of a relationship in which she gave too much. “Bleeding on a foreign floor / Slow dying / And it's not hard to be alone anymore,” she sings on another track, “Berlin,” about learning to stand being alone with her thoughts in the heart of the German city.

In an album full of glittering electric guitar harmonies, “Solipsism” takes on a grungier sound. From the track’s onset, fuzzy electric guitars and crashing snare hits dominate the song, powering away under Lily’s crystalline vocals. “What is it you want to shake? / Solipsism keeps me wide awake,” she sings, her voice heavy with the anxiety of knowing her own existence is the only one she can be sure of. “Focus on a foreign feeling / Unashamed and unappealing,” she sings in another verse. Lily spends much of the track focusing on this feeling of dissociation, just as the song’s heavy instrumentation evokes dissonance against the rest of the album’s vibrant musicality.

After an album full of candid apologies, of shared regrets and open wounds, “Solipsism” feels like a step forward and away from the demons of Lily’s past. The track represents Lily’s path toward final acceptance of what can and cannot be known.

By the album’s end, Lily shifts from singing of past relationships and bridges burned — as seen in “Birthday” and “I, Nietzche” — to singing of her relationship with herself. Though that shift starts with “Solipsism,” it is most evident in the album’s closing tracks, such as “Someone Else’s Trees.”

In “Someone Else’s Trees,” a song about almost dying at five years old, Lily sings about how she sometimes wishes she had. “I'm not afraid to die more so to be alive,” she sings while a light acoustic guitar pushes her voice forward. “I know in this and more I'm not alone.” In those two lines, Lily encapsulates the undercurrent of despair that lurks under much of the album, but also the growth that has taken place in her to recognize those feelings for what they are.

While the first half of the album helps to hide these thoughts under the glitz of a bright melody and shimmering indie production, the closing tracks shift to a new kind of rawness. Both built upon an acoustic guitar, they provide the perfect come down from the whirlwind of emotions that “BREACH” evokes.

In “BREACH,” Lily makes artful use of her ability to play on her listener’s empathies, creating an album that invites a deeply cathartic response to Lily’s loneliness from start to finish. Whether she’s singing about an “arsehole” she dated or her own struggles with isolation and identity, her unapologetically honest lyrics bring her listeners right there with her.

After the success of her debut album in indie music circles, Lily’s follow-up in “BREACH” serves as a testament to her ability to skillfully weave emotion, lyricism, and musicality into a glowing tapestry, further cementing the singer-songwriter’s rightful place in the indie canon.

—Staff Writer Sofia Andrade can be reached at sofia.andrade@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @SofiaAndrade__.

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