Fenne Lily has been on the indie radar since 2016, arriving first with the sombre “Top To Toe”. The song introduced the world to a young singer-songwriter from Bristol with the arresting voice and musical side that bridges the lush valleys of Dido to the soaring and edgy sonatas of Sharon Van Etten. During the past two years, she gradually released new songs – seven in total – that possessed the same effects on listeners: breathtaking, bone-chilling, and dazzling. Each track raised expectations that her debut album was on the horizon, and at long last she unveiled On Hold less than two weeks ago.
Those familiar with Lily’s work will recognize most of the songs, as all seven of the previously-released tunes are on the 12-track record. Despite their familiarity, together they form an album to remember. An album that stuns throughout its 37-minute duration and leaves one in awe with its ethereal catharsis and Lily’s immediate and intimate lyrics.
Most of the songs revolve around experiencing and overcoming a breakup, but there is much more to the record. The delicate folk ballad “Brother”, which features Lily finger-picking an acoustic guitar, is an acknowledgement to the person who helped her overcome her situation. The song also stands out for its Julien Baker-like simplicity. A similar approach is adopted on “Car Park (Overflow)”, which is an acoustic version of the album’s opener, “Car Park” . The latter transcends the word “gorgeous”. Her lush vocals and the enrapturing melody are consuming, enveloping each second of your time and the song’s duration.
This devastatingly beautiful approach encompasses the rest of the LP, as does her message of not forgetting nor regretting the past yet recognizing that everything comes to an end. When it does, one must move on. No song depicts these themes better than “Three Oh Nine”, which is a knockout and truly an “OMG” moment. Guided by the soft touches of the piano, a titillating bass line, and a trembling drum, Lily’s vocals are vulnerable and emotionally naked. She crushingly proclaims, “It’s a first for me.
It’s a pain I need.”
There are moments of surrender in Lily’s music, as revealed on the tender “What’s Good”, which she finds “fighting this is hard. Fighting this is new. Tell me why good things die.” The soft eloquence of “For a While” further sees Lily grappling to fill the hole in her heart.
“You tell me it’s good for now.
I’ll heal, but I don’t know how.
Safe in the way we touch,
But it hurts to feel this much.”
“More Than You Know“ is Lily’s attempt at a more upbeat number, yet it is still somber in its approach. The song’s in-between nature reflects her emotional state, which is a person stuck between coping and trying to find optimism. Lilly, however, is at her best when she turns the stormy skies into beautiful spectacles, such as on the gripping and dramatic “The Hand You Deal”. Despite its more brooding approach, Lily reveals an important lesson she’s learned:
“Though I sleep alone,
I don’t walk alone,
And I’ve come to know what I need.”
For the heartbreak Lily has endured, she still finds a way to capture the moments like beautiful memories. The stirring “Top to Toe” sounds more like a sombre story about losing someone than about having one’s heart broken. Her lyrics are soul crushing, yet written with a maturity beyond her years. The album’s title track and highlight, “On Hold”, further demonstrates the twentysomething’s immense talent. The combination of her silky smooth vocals and the shallow electric guitar is mesmerizing, possessing a beauty that matches Sharon Van Etten’s most engrossing songs. Her words, though, are the showstoppers, as she masterfully weaves together the joyous times with the painful memories.
“I was on hold,
Tired of getting cold,
So I put my love to bed.
Scared to be alone,
So you took my hand and said,
Come inside I’ll make your mind up.
All this pain is gold.”
Through the cracks in her heart, Fenne Lily has managed to deliver a record that is itself golden. An album that takes heartbreak and somehow finds a way to not pander to the usual hurtful, spiteful, and vengeful traits of similar records. Instead, Lily has found a way to embrace each moment, understand each lesson, and celebrate the little things that gave her hope. To celebrate the coming of a new day. Likewise, today, we celebrate the emergence of a star-in-waiting. The emergence of a young woman who makes us again believe there is hope after the pain.
On Hold is out now on all streaming and digital platforms. Lily is currently on tour, and there are only a handful of European dates remaining. Further details are available here.
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