Fenne Lily’s sophomore LP, Breach, is out today on Dead Oceans.
It’s an ambitious and fine-spun collection of indie songs that sound like they were channeled through the cosmos.
Like much of the music coming out today, the album stems from isolation, though not the enforced kind: It was written during a period of self-imposed solitude before COVID-19.
Hailing from Dorset, Lily garnered a great deal of attention for her debut LP, On Hold, which debuted when she was just 18. Now she’s returned with a sophomore album about growing older, coming into one’s own, and confronting the wilderness of one’s early 20s.
The album’s first track, “To Be a Woman,” is a delicate and dreamy ode to growing into maturity that invites the listener into the album. The second track and lead single, “Alapathy,” brings in growling guitars and gets things moving. It’s about how she “started smoking weed to switch off [her] brain,” says the artist.
Fenne Lily – Alapathy (Official Video)
“Western medicine generally treats the symptoms of an illness rather than the cause,” Lily said, explaining that she began to realize that smoking weed and taking medication were failing to fully treat her problems because they weren’t addressing the root issues.
Perhaps in response to this realization, Breach seems to be about taking a hard look at oneself without any distractions. The third track, “Berlin,” is a centerpiece of the record, born of isolation and independence.
After touring her first album in Europe, Fenne spent a month alone in Berlin. She wrote the song after a day spent reading Patti Smith’s coming-of-artistic-age classic Just Kids for the third time and a night spent alone at Berlin’s premier nightclub, the since-temporarily-shutdown Berghain.
Fenne Lily – Berlin (Lyric Video)
In the song, you can hear the influences of favorites like the Velvet Underground and contemporary rockers like The War on Drugs. “It’s not hard to be alone anymore,” Lily sings, “waking to the pain you ignore.” A cathartic guitar solo builds the song up to a new level, bringing it to a place that feels like liberation after a long time spent soul-searching, buoyed by momentum gained after hitting rock bottom and coming out again.
Some of her songs are about less personal, more distant stories. The song “Elliott” was inspired by someone she met who gave up a chance at being in a rock band to open a hardware shop, but as she wrote it she realized she was also writing about her father’s childhood and her family history. The song takes notes from the gentle ballads of the likes of Joni Mitchell, with enigmatic and timeless lyrics.
On the other hand, the brilliantly named “I Used to Hate My Body But Now I Just Hate You” is an intensely personal, lyrically scathing slow burn that sounds like Lily’s frequent tour partner, Julia Jacklin, with its warm and dreamy layers of guitar.
The song “I, Nietsche” is also inspired by a frustration with an egotistical (presumably male) person. “So I was scared about putting that on the album it makes me look like I read Nietszche and that I think I’m a big shit and stuff,” said Lily in a recent interview, “but I actually wrote it about a boy I was seeing who read a lot of that kind of stuff but he was the least empathetic most psychotic person I’d ever met in my whole life!”
Books actually did inspire some of the songs on the album, as did some good old philosophical musings. While Lily might not be a fan of Nietzsche, she does have a fondness for some other hallmarks of 20th century philosophy. “Getting perspective on things and realising how small and insignificant they are and also how connected they are to the world…perspective is an important thing to come to terms with,” she said. “Books have really helped me to tap into that or escapism. Like Camus…he has literally written a book about being outside of your own body.”
The body—whether one is in it or outside it or existing at all—is a constant question mark throughout the album. The song “Solipsism” is inspired by the philosophical idea that proposes one’s mind is the only thing that exists. “Solipsism” is one of the heavier tracks on the album; in it, Lily seems to be musing about whether there’s actually anyone that exists outside of her, both learning to be her own independent person outside of a relationship and wondering about the limits of an isolated mindset and worldview. It’s also just about being twenty-one and figuring things out.
Fenne Lily – Solipsism (Official Video)
In short, it’s an ode to the way the world shifts and morphs as we grow and change. We’re all finding ourselves; Fenne Lily just seems to be a little better than most at turning that process into gorgeous songs.