Fenne Lily Makes Folk Music For Isolation On ‘Breach’ | Album Review
It’s difficult to separate music from our current contexts, and that’s all the more true six months into a global pandemic. Fenne Lily’s Dead Oceans label debut Breach is written specifically for isolation, though it takes inspiration from a month of intentional solitude in Berlin after a tour. Over gentle acoustic guitar picking and arrangements that slowly swell, Lily writes toward personal acceptance and stability with the songs building on those ideas as they journey through her experiences. It’s an appealing message and document of solitary self-searching that couldn’t be more timely.
“It’s kind of like writing a letter, and leaving it in a book that you know you’ll get out when you’re sad—like a message to yourself in the future,” Lily says in a press release for the album. That’s helpful framing for the songs on Breach. Lily spends a lot of time in quiet contemplation throughout the album’s 12 tracks and dedicates much of that to the contrasts between what is and what was, what one might have imagined and what has actually taken place.
“Berlin,” a conceptual focal point of Breach which features backing vocals from Lucy Dacus, centers that point in the context of Lily’s isolation. “It’s not hard to be alone anymore / though I’m sleeping with my key in the door.” Similar contrasts take place on “I, Nietzsche” and “Birthday” and form the basis of “I Used To Hate My Body, Now I Just Hate You.” That track features some of the album’s best lyrics, like the opening line “I met you in November for a weekend / I loved you by December like a fool” and the closing line “I heard you live at home now with your parents / it doesn’t satisfy me like it should.”
Lily’s thoughts on solitude carry throughout as an undercurrent. There’s touches of tour life from the realization on “I, Nietzsche” that “home is where I brush my teeth” to the final arrival at a more conventional home as the album finishes with “Laundry and Jet Lag.” “Solipsism” brings it to the forefront with an almost droning, fuzzier feel that stands out from the rest of Breach.
It’s actually interesting how often the songs are not just Lily alone. While these songs are rooted in folk—it’s not hard to trace lines to the open chord voicings and intimate lyrics of Joni Mitchell and Nick Drake—they often build with strings and layered electric guitars more akin to contemporary artists like Big Thief or Laura Marling. “Alapathy” ventures the furthest from soft folk with a bright bounce throughout, as she sings of taking up smoking weed as a self-medication, accentuated by distorted guitars and consistent piano chords.
More often, the arrangements tend to bloom, presenting dynamics like growth as Lily seems to strive for that herself. “Berlin,” again solidifying its place as central to the album’s meaning, works its way from a tight bit of somber folk to a fuzzy crescendo that aches for an epiphany. These choices—likely influenced by producer Brian Deck (Modest Mouse, Iron & Wine, Nathaniel Rateliff)—help to demonstrate the motion and progression both through the music and through Lily’s personal life, as documented here.
By the time “Laundry and Jet Lag” closes the album, Lily has given up smoking (admittedly only briefly) and returned home, literally cleaning off the dirty remnants of her time away. Before strings sweep in, she concedes “stains go away but I’m left with the scars of you.” It’s an honest end to a well thought out and purposeful album—a solid companion for quiet walks or nights alone in contemplation.