Innocence and Experience: ‘Canterbury Girls’ – Lily & Madeleine

Canterbury Girls refers to Canterbury Park in Indianapolis, IN, Madeleine tells me. “It’s the first place of adolescent freedom, the first place of blossoming girlhood – and a place to imagine the future a girl wants.” But as Madeleine goes onto tell me, though the park is a place freedom and child-like fantasies, full of uninhibited movement and thought, before self-consciousness sets up home within us, the upcoming album (22nd February) paints a canvas of a park when the sun goes down and shadows are plentiful, and when the monsters come out to play.

“This album also reflects the opposite; when youthful dreams are lost and the kind of emotional baggage that women have to carry with them, more often than not, becomes their burden. Burdens of disgust, of pain, unwanted attention, and trauma – the double standard, the disappointments, the disrespect, the fury, the helplessness, and the resignation…rapey tour managers etc. Sharing the angst bundled up in that baggage and taking refuge in sharing and realizing you aren’t alone, that’s when healing begins. It’s the story of many, and the story of Canterbury Girls everywhere.” 


Credit: Photographer Fairlight Hubbard and Art Director Megan Thompson.

The title track, where all the other songs begin and end, appears midway through the album. Bringing both the light and dark, contextualising the rest of the songs in the realms of light and dark; innocence and experience; hurt and love. Treating each as equal and valid experiences, not dismissing them or putting up the pretence of being “over it” but adding each to your armour.

“Canterbury girls are heartless/ Tijuana boys just play”

The melancholy and dream-like instrumentation along with the Lily & Madeleine‘s ethereal and ghostly but determined harmonies creates a soundscape of nostalgia, one where your mind wanders to summer evenings, running wild and free as a child, where not knowing is not an obstacle, and dreams are rewarded. For the sisters, this place is Canterbury Park, Indiana but for each of us, it could be anywhere both real and imagined.

“Dancing moonlight/ Muses old as time/ I know there’s a limit/ But I don’t feel it/Not tonight// Soaked in sunshine/ Don’t know where to be/ But if you’re doing what I’m doing/ Then we’re free”

‘Canterbury Girls’ builds with each chorus, an urgency and determination floating in. Church bells come in during the latter half of the song, perhaps signalling time running out on an evening that you don’t want to end.

The album opens with a determined and gospel inflected piano and harmonies for the track ‘Self Care’. The song repeats the same chord progression over and over, creating a sense of hammering home truths that you need to keep hearing until you finally wake up.

Madeleine has said that ‘Self Care’ is about a toxic relationship and waiting for your head to catch up with your heart, or vice versa depending on how much weight you put on each. But I remember when I first listened to this song late last summer, I associated the song with if not depression then being depressed, whether because of a situation, a relationship, or purely, because well, life. Of feeling numb and knowing you’re hurting the person closest to you, and of trying to feel something for them when you look at them but feeling nothing and just hoping and praying that at some point you will wake up.

“This can’t be right/ There’s no delight/ I know I’m hurting you too/ I feel ashamed/ When you say my name/ Like there’s somethin’ I can do”

The power is the directness of the lyrics and the articulation of the instrumentation. There is nothing to be confused about. The situation is bleak and the only person who can fix it is you.

“Holding my breath/ Not there quite yet/ Dear God, I hope it comes soon/ Got too much time/ To figure out why/ I’m so unhappy with you”

Canterbury Girls feels like the big sister to Keep It Together, the sisters 2015 release. Bolder and more empowered with a production that evokes slow, languid summer days and nights, filled with nuances of soul and pop/folk instrumentation.

‘Supernatural Sadness’ is a beautiful indulgence in all things that are not good for your heart. Shimmering synths, acoustic guitars and energetic drums, create a brightness, perfectly set against lyrics that dance from happily codependent one minute before spiraling down into the end of a relationship. An ode, perhaps, to Motown songs that no matter how groovy and fun, were generally filled with the most fucking depressing lyrics known to man.

“Misery is a blessing/ Realized what I need/ Though your love is depressing/ Can’t stay here and watch you bleed”

‘Analog Love’ is the sugar to the rest of the album’s salt; the innocence of Canterbury Park in the daylight hours. The song is a longing for a simple and reassuring love of simpler times. The stripped back instrumentation and gentler vocals reflect this want for realness, as do the references to Grease and Carole King.

“Do my best to make you feel hopelessly devoted”// “Wanna feel the Earth underneath our feet”

Credit: Photographer Fairlight Hubbard and Art Director Megan Thompson.

“Got my body in a trance/ Holding onto things, I can’t stand”

Want and need are two very different things. Needing to leave but not wanting to go. “I don’t know, when I’ll learn, what I need, to feel sane.” ‘Circles’ is a waltz in the same four chords repeated over and over. No way to step out of the cycle. Unlike ‘Self Care’, the repetition is not there as self-affirmation but a way to signify this stuck-ness.

The sung imagery is captivating. “I’m tangled in a dance with a man I hate/Oh, fate isn’t my friend.” Watching two people twirl around and around on a dance floor, in a suspended fate. A bit like the story of The Red Shoes that keeps the girl dancing, a set of bad choices and behaviours you need to let go of keeps you locked in a relationship that you should have left but for whatever reason, you can’t quit.  This trance-like state is made even more so by the slow and smooth harmonies the sisters create and the back-and-forth between them.

“It’s not the same, without you here by my side, in my life, I feel strange”// “I am making for something more than neon lights/ Tonight I need your kiss”

 The chaotic waltz ends with Madeleine’s unguarded vocals and the realisation that you are no longer dancing with “the man I hate” but yourself.

 “I am tangled in a dance with a girl I hate/ Oh, fate is not my friend”

The needing to go but the wanting to stay is carried over into the final song on the album. ‘Go’ paints the bit before a relationship ends. The bit where you realise all the parts of yourself you were hiding and all the parts you were pretending to play.

“Now its 2am and I’m thinking/ About the things that I was scared to show// I’ve lost track of time but I don’t care/ I’m just glad you finally know”

‘Go’ is, for me, perhaps the saddest song on the record for many reasons. There’s the finally going and also the relief of finally letting him see you were pretending all this time. As the sisters sung on the very first track on the Canterbury Girls, “I’m sure you don’t understand, who the hell I think I am”.

Then there’s the exquisitely beautiful and sparse piano instrumental. With subtle synths weaving in and out, that slowly fade into obscurity, like a world slowly fading into dark. Again, it could be mimicking the end, or maybe it is Canterbury Girls returning to where it started, that place of freedom and imagination, of new beginnings, and a place where innocence and experience can live side by side.

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