Fenne Lily : Big Picture
The older I get, the more frequently I find myself embracing genres and sounds I wholesale rejected upon first hearing them. Chalk it up, perhaps to the overall mellowing of my mood, energy and eardrum health, but the depth and breadth of my evolving listening habits reject that premise. Simply put, I think the reason I like more music these days is because I listen to more music. I enjoy the challenge of expanding my artistic horizons. And nowhere does this sentiment reign supreme like my penchant for mellow, insular folk singers.
While the admission seems cliched, I am getting more mature in my thinking and expansive in my tastes. Much like the books that strike my fancy these days, I enjoy music that asks me to sit down for a spell as the artist works their magic. And it’s because of that personal growth that I can better appreciate the songs of Fenne Lily and the deep wells of profound feeling flowing throughout Big Picture. Her second album to be released via Dead Oceans, it delivers thoughtful music that’s reserved and structured without being stark or formulaic. Across ten terrific tracks, we’re treated to a smooth blend of ‘70s-inspired AM pop, ‘90s-era Lilith Fair folk, and contemporary indie with a relaxed feel and an amazing aura.
Lily’s smoky vocal alto features a delightfully slight lilt, and she renders it with grace and strength, even if her volume rarely rises above a gentle conversation. She then pairs it with crisp and subtle guitar work—tidy acoustic strums and sumptuous jazzy fills on electric—over enchanting bass lines and brushed drums. The interplay of sweetly swirling keyboard chords and warm mellotron also provides a textured fullness that never overstays its welcome.
With “Dawncolored Horse,” the music immediately kicks into a gentle groove carried by the rhythm section while Joe Sherrin’s lead guitar delivers elegant, sparse licks. But it’s Lily’s floating vocals that carry the day, especially when intones in the chorus, “And it’s all right if you don’t want to remember that nothing’s forever after all.” On “Lights Light Up,” we’re treated to a lovely little pop ditty, one that feels like a spirited amble down a neighborhood street right as the afternoon gives way to sunset. The twinkling electric guitar work dances with Kane Eagle’s basslines while Brad Cook’s keyboard chords seep into the cracks of the melody. But I’m taken by this snippet from the first verse: “We held each other while everything burned up ‘round us and inside of me, too/That’s called love.”
Later on, plaintive ballad “Red Deer Day” proves entrancing, complete with Lily’s own low-key acoustic strums and wispy melodic meanderings on upright piano. Her heartfelt croon sweeps me away as she whispers, “Just because it hasn’t gone to plan doesn’t mean it’s gone to waste.” Closing out the album, “Half Finished” commands us to sit still so we catch every last bittersweet syllable Lily utters atop a bed of loping guitar lines and syrupy mellotron. Her poetic intimacy hits new depths with the crushing emotional weight of phrases like, “I told you I love you and mean it completely. I just can’t say the same to myself.”
Lily’s mature lyricism is what ultimately sells Big Picture. The album arose from Lily’s own problem relationships, as she made the intentional choice to write about the difficulties, how they can be worth the struggle, and when to recognize they aren’t. Maybe the reason I seek out music of this nature in this time of my life is because it reflects a wider, more fulsome picture of the human experience. There’s a delicate strength in admitting you don’t and can’t know everything, and such arriving at such revelations takes more than impatient twenty-somethings typically have.
Big Picture basks in a hushed restraint, delivering elevated coffee shop vibes and chilled-out jazz club aesthetics, complete with atypical chord progressions. Fenne Lily has crafted an impeccable collection of songs, complete with a track listing that keeps the pacing and energy fresh.
Label: Dead Oceans