When I interviewed Lily & Madeleine back in November 2014, it was clear from our conversation that their upcoming and still to be written third album was going to powerful. Not in an obvious way because that’s not how the sisters roll but in a quietly defiant and honest way; a way that makes you as the listener think about your life and the lives around you.
I remember Lily excitedly telling me that she “was exploding with ideas” for the new record. I also remember the sisters and my own frustration and anger with how women and girls are treated and perceived, by not only the music industry but by the society as a whole. The incessant focus on our looks and image (the virgin-whore dichotomy anyone?), and whether we’re smiling enough in public, as well as the constant dance between being perceived as a bitch or as an innocent wallflower. As Madeleine astutely pointed out, “It has to do with control and perception; because women are basically walking dolls”.
‘Keep It Together’ the name of Lily & Madeleine’s new record, is a lyric taken from the first track ‘Not Gonna’. The lyric is one that ties the whole collection of songs together from the upbeat ‘For the Weak’ to the emotionally and sonically uncomfortable ‘Westfield’. The words “keep it together” have so many layers and meanings not only on this album but in our own lives in general – “keep your shit together”, “keep your friendship/relationships/marriage together”, “keep your career together” or in the case of the song ‘Not Gonna’, the sisters opt for the more literal sense, “keep your image as woman together”; don’t be too outspoken, too bitchy, or too promiscuous. In other words, be the epitome of a walking doll.
The quietly defiant ‘Not Gonna’ opens the album with the words,
“Cuts along your thighs/ Melting together like milk and XY/ Search for the right guy/ Keep it together/ Don’t lose it like prom night.”
As the song moves forward into the chorus, you are swept away with not only the words that ring true overtime but also the melancholy strings that add a tinge of sadness to the whole thing.
Not Gonna’ may not be an anthemic girl power song in the traditional and commercial sense but it is perhaps the most accurate song that sums up what girls and women deal with on a daily basis. With lines like, “Fly far but stay on the ground”, “Kiss me, cut it out” and “Don’t be such a bitch”, as a woman I found myself sadly nodding my head with to each lyric the sisters sang. The chorus however, wilfully ignores and pushes all these contradictory double standards aside and literally says fuck you, I’m going to do my own thing and I’m not going to apologise for speaking my mind or taking up space.
“Everyone’s expecting me to say I’m sorry but I’m not/ No I’m not/ Keeping quiet’s easy/ And I could try/ But I’m not gonna”
‘Keep It Together’, produced by Paul Mahern and released on New West Records, is not a lightweight musical journey with the musicians phoning it in, and you being giving the luxury of not having to pay attention. No; it’s an album that asks you to dig deep into your person and to actively listen to the words and the stories the sisters have woven intricately and cleverly together. It’s definitely a progression from their debut EP ‘In the Middle’ right through to their last album ‘Fumes’ but in the best and most natural way possible. The poetic and self-aware lyrics are still present as are the sisters harmonies but the sound is tighter, more experimental and the lyrics more provocative.
The single ‘Hourglass’, co-written with singer-songwriter and musician Lucie Silvas, is about battling the onslaught of time passing you by, or rather the push we feel from our peers, our colleagues and society to move through life at an accelerated pace. You know the drill, “why aren’t you married yet?/ why don’t you have a baby yet?”/ “where do you see yourself in five years?/ “you need to X,Y and Z by the time your 30” etc etc. This song is Lily & Madeleine taking back that power and ownership over their journey.
“Passing cars and nameless faces/ Don’t know what it is they’re chasing/ Leave me behind/ I’m well aware that out my window/ There’s so many places to go/ But all in good time.”
The message is clear; this my hourglass, my life and I will not be rushed. I will go at my own pace, my way. It’s a powerful message in a world that is seemingly going so fast; as if we’ve all been hijacked and have been entered into a competition not of our choosing.
‘Midwest Kid’, a tongue in cheek look at their peers lives and how “difficult” the life of midwest kid is. Or maybe it’s a reflection on what life is really like as young person living in the mid west (Lily and Madeleine are from Indiana) – the boredom of waiting for life to start, the mundane, and the lack of imagination and direction they feel.
“Spending Friday nights getting wasted/ In your best friend’s basement/ I know there’s more to this/ Well, you know I won’t tell.”
‘Chicago’, a song about a late night rendezvous in the city between lovers. Like a city, the song has it’s own pulse and vibe; in this case slow, moody and languid. The lyrics are full of longing and intensity, of wanting or maybe needing to be physical with your lover.
“Hot and heavy is the night you surprised me in the city/ I swear my heart melts when you tell me I look pretty/ You hold my hand I close my eyes/ And swaying with the pines/ I know that you are mine.”
By the end of the song, the city becomes as much a part of the story as the two people in the song; it’s as if the Chicago takes on the emotions and longing of the lovers.
The bridge is the cleverest part of the song, with Lily & Madeleine alternating between lines. Their harmonies weave and wrap around each other, then disentangle, mimicking the words and actions of the two lovers in conversation.
“Chicago/ You said we’d run away/ Hot and heavy/ I want to know/ I do not know/ Where this is headed/ Chicago/ You said you had to go/ Hot and heavy/ I want to know/ How far will this go?”
‘Smoke Tricks’ is a very cool stripped down track with just beats, piano, and the sisters harmonies, which though beautiful give the impression of boredom and resignation to all his lies, and knowing full well he isn’t going to change. As the sisters sing;
“I know this won’t change/ Talkin is your game.”
The song tells the story of a guy who uses words to just impress, but none of what he says actually means anything. It’s all a game to him. A game filled with beautiful words and promises but none that are ever kept or followed through on. It’s all bullshit; beautiful and addictive bullshit but bullshit nonetheless.
“Oh and I have tried to be blind with you/ Every word I said was wasted breath/ Truer than you’ll ever know/ And I only really need to fix/ How I waste all my time/ On stupid smoke tricks.”
There is no wasted word on this album; each lyric is weighted and important but still beautiful and fluid, allowing you to pull on the ones that mean the most to you at any given time.