Album Review: Fenne Lily – BREACH

[Dead Oceans; 2020]

Fenne Lily may only be in her early 20s, but she’s matured significantly since the release of her 2018 debut album On Hold. While that was a set of heartbroken musings with plenty of gorgeously fluttering moments, on her second album, BREACH, she’s no longer wallowing in her sadness but instead analysing it, trying to understand it, and coming out the other side more confident. She has attributed this to spending a lot more time by herself – most notably when she holed up in Berlin on her own for a month – and coming to her feelings and thoughts from a place of self-compassion and self-righteousness.

BREACH kicks off with “To Be A Woman Pt. 1”, a vaporous introductory affair that seems to be her welcoming listeners into her powerful solitude with a bold statement about her womanhood, announcing “fuck falling apart” while also urging “don’t be afraid of me.” The album then kicks into gear with “Alapathy”, a driving indie rock song that sets the tone for the majority of the album – this more propulsive and built-up sound is a better vessel for Fenne’s tougher thoughts and admissions.

“Alapathy” is also a perfect encapsulation of where we find Fenne now; for starters, she’s inventing words (the title is a combination of the words ‘allopathic’ and ‘apathy’), and she fills the bustling song with piles of paranoid imagery (“I lose my mind under the glow of a temporary fade”) and concludes “I’m a ghost sometimes.” These conflicted feelings are picked up in the following track, the slow-drifting “Berlin”, which, although written the day after she went on a solo trip to the city’s infamous Berghain nightclub, is not about her sightseeing but about her coming to terms with her emotional development: “It’s not hard to be alone anymore / though I’m sleeping with my key in the door.” Another carefully painted self-portrait is “Solipsism”, where she feels run down by the world around her, retreats into herself, only to sigh with excellent theatricality: “run on empty / at one and twenty.”

This ability to switch between emotional exposure and heavy sardonicism, all amidst pretty indie songs, is one of Fenne’s greatest strengths, and it becomes even more compelling when she is attacking an ex. “I, Nietzsche” is the first example to crop up on BREACH, her whisper-sung introduction belying the physicality of the line “you threw me up against the wall”, while the ultimate denouement is a slightly troubling one: “there’s nothing wrong but I need you / I’m looking for a reason to drown.”

Album centrepiece “Birthday” finds her in more provocative mood, delivering lines like “we talked about getting married / and now I hate your guts.” It also features the album’s most anthemic chorus, “you’re telling me I’m in your head like it’s a good thing / telling me she’s in your bed like it was nothing,” delivered over ribbons of violin with plenty of acidity and no self-pity, which makes it soar all the more. Another song that’s sure to be an instant fan favourite is “I Used To Hate My Body But Now I Just Hate You”, whose title pretty much says it all, but there are plenty of details – both worrying and humorous – to be gleaned from a dive into its lyrics, not to mention Fenne’s delivery, which is once again perfectly unimpressed.

BREACH finishes up with “Laundry and Jet Lag”, where Fenne is back at her most vulnerable as she explores her convoluted feelings about a whirlwind tour and strained romance. “Stains go away but I’m left with scars of you,” she concludes the song and the album, a simple but deadly effective line that at once reminds us of her powerful way with words and that she is still a very young woman. It’s just one small encapsulation of the brilliance of BREACH as a whole, and, like many other parts of the album, leaves us with plenty to think about.

While the warm emotionality and elegant melodicism of BREACH should earn her legions of fans, it’s the little snippets of hard-to-admit truth that are going to come to mean the most to people. It’s these moments that set her apart, and are as sure a sign as any that Fenne Lily is going to grow into an even more exciting and important artist in the years to come.