Photography Mirja Kofler
When you look at pictures of Fenne Lily, you see a whimsical blonde girl, acoustic guitar in hand. So, after the 30 seconds of soft, poignant guitar that open her debut album On Hold, her voice surprises you. Lily’s vocals have real depth and originality, and they are what carries this record.
Fresh off the back of supporting Dodie – Lily’s soft sound was well-met by the YouTube musician’s mostly young, teenage, female fans – the Bristol-based singer-songwriter has released On Hold and headlined a UK tour.
‘Car Park’ provides a soft introduction to the album, showcasing Lily’s particular brand of gentle folk rock. ‘Three Oh Nine’ is tonally different, its simple bassline creating a song that seems to hold its breath before building to an aching chorus. Lily has said, “My music comes from anger, but I can’t sing angrily, so I sing sadly. It’s a sadness that’s fueled by fury”. This song feels like a perfect example of that.
‘What’s Good’ is lovely (as third-sad-song-in-a-row tunes go), employing synth to compliment Lily’s stripped-back vocals. ‘The Hand You Deal’ begins in the same low tone, but switches direction when an unexpected drumbeat and major-key chorus hit a minute and a half in, highlighting some range to an album which could be misconstrued as same-y.
‘More Than You Know’ is very much in the Sufjan Stevens tradition; in fact, the whole album is a nice, female addition to that indie folk (sad guitar) genre that’s been dominated by followers of Elliott Smith for so long.
The title track, ‘On Hold’ changes direction again, switching from acoustic to electric guitar which established it outside the folksiness of the first half of the album. The (somewhat obvious) Laura Marling comparison feels most inevitable on ‘Top to Toe’, whose aching sense of loss is articulated not just lyrically but in every note of every instrument.
The major-key ‘Bud’, thankfully, brings some much-needed hope to the album, and ‘Brother’ is a delicate song in which Lily’s skill as a storyteller shines through. ‘For a While’ underlines the album’s vulnerability, with a great build, and the album closes with an acoustic reworking of the opening track, ‘Car Park (Overflow)’, lending a cyclical quality to what is a delightful debut album.
Amongst other things, Fenne Lily has made a record that is about finding strength in vulnerability. It’s deeply emotional and introspective, without being depressing. Repeated listens reveal the true depth and range of her style. The British folk scene has gained a new gem in Fenne Lily.
Listen to: The Hand You Deal, Top to Toe, Brother