Album Review: Lily & Madeleine – Canterbury Girls

Nobody ever expects an artist or band to maintain the same musical style for ever. Young artists in particular plough a more distinctive furrow as they mature and find their own personality on new records. These changes are emerging on the new Lily & Madeleine release, although they may not be initially perceptible.

Opening with the gospel-tinged Self Care, what we have come to expect from the sister duo from Indianapolis is present and correct; lavish harmonies accompany a stripped-back piano which is complimented by simple guitars, strings and percussion maintaining that timeless quality that belies their young age. This was the reason we cherished them when they arrived on the scene back in 2013. Next track Supernatural Sadness provides an unexpected, refreshing twist to proceedings.

The song is pop cut from the same cloth as Kacey Musgraves’ genre-bending approach on her incredible, Grammy-award winning Golden Hour, when she imbued her pop approach with her own distinctive country personality with remarkable success. Lily & Madeleine have taken the same approach on Supernatural Sadness, maintaining the timeless harmonies amidst the warm pop textures that shimmer seductively. It comes as no surprise to learn that they were guided by producers Daniel Tashian and Ian Fitchuk, who were responsible for producing Musgrave’s award-winning record. The question is whether this shift in approach can be sustained for an entire record.

The sister’s vocals appear to have matured over the last couple of years and Just Do It benefits from wonderfully rich, bassy harmonics but the song is a bit too syrupy. Musically, it also feels a tad homogeneous and this resemblance to other songs and artists continues with the title track and Bruises. It’s hard to fault the component parts but after the wonderful ambiguity of tracks like Westfield on the previous album, there is a uniformity to proceedings this time that is difficult to shake. That is until Pachinko Song. Suddenly there is an upbeat tempo tied to that detached equivocacy that has been present on previous successes. There’s a dangerous, exotic tone that is allied to the high-stakes connotations inherent in the song and it all makes for a murky pop-noir number of real quality. Unfortunately, next track Circles reverts back to the more sentimental approach of earlier.

Can’t Help the Way I Feel is a more interesting proposition; taking a Supremes chorus blueprint as its foundation, it adds some impetuous keys providing a more unpredictable attitude that is sadly not prevalent enough across the record as a whole, and Analog Love and final track, Go, suffer from an over-reliance on anodyne sentimentality.

There are certainly inspired moments to savour on this record; the vocals of the Jurkiewicz sisters are faultless throughout and the more portentous flavours on the best tracks offer wicked highlights. Sadly, these are overshadowed by a more generic conversion to a pop sensibility that lacks the enigmatic ambiguity of the record’s highlights.

Iain Fox