Album Review: Lily Konigsberg – Lily We Need To Talk Now

[Wharf Cat; 2021]

I tell you what: with the revolving door machinery of bigger indie labels undermining the music, I have cherished Lily Konigsberg’s DIY-oriented output all the more. No matter what sonic direction she veers into, all her songs and arrangements contain such a specific glow. It’s the kind of glow buzzing within that silly eureka-phase of a writing process, like a sparkling seed stuck in the fruit that it bore.

Even though Konigsberg has once again been unbelievably prolific this year – churning out a compilation record of past recordings, an EP with indie-pop duo My Idea, and another album with noise punks PalbertaLily We Need To Talk Now is promoted as her first official solo record with skittish innocence.

Frequent collaborator Nate Amos (Water From Your Eyes) co-produced the album, and a familiar cast of associates – including Palberta-bandmates Ani Ivry-Block and Nina Ryser, Andrea Schiavelli, Lily & Horn Horse multi-instrumentalist Matt Norman and The Cradle’s Paco Cathcart – are back in tow. With those fundaments in place, Konigsberg concentrates and accumulates her tempestuous instincts as a composer and songwriter more incisively than ever. Somehow, however, this newfound deliberation on Lily We Need To Talk Now makes her music even more maddeningly fun than it already was.

In fact, the album title already spells it out for you: it’s Konigsberg consciously reeling herself back in, reflecting a bit deeper on her own giddy disposition. But not too deep, either, as she’s irreverently refusing to apologize for it. “Hark, the angel flying underneath / Making my legs move faster than my feet / But I won’t stop trying his tricks / I won’t let you down just yet”, she sings over the buoyant jazz-pop of “Hark”, atop a taut-but-wonky drum beat Mickey Mousing the cadence of her vocals with the playful precision of a nursery rhyme. At 1:44 there’s this delightfully bovine little synth flourish that makes me chuckle every time.

Later in the song, she confesses she’s “back on her bullshit games again” and “Forcing the things I made to rearrange / Is how I do it every time”. It’s such a fun, confident, self-aware little memo-to-self on her overall pride as an artist, and simultaneously a knowing wink to the listener. Konigsberg breaks the fourth wall often, not at all concerned with putting some mystical veil around her music. Transparently, her songs often make her process part of the end result, and in less capable hands this would be considered snooty or navelgaze-y.

Konigsberg is also keenly aware of what makes her core influences enjoyable, applying her own idiosyncratic ideas to achieve that same levity. “Sweat Forever” could be considered a faithful throwback to Sixpence None The Richer, Natalie Imbruglia, or Sarah McLachlan with its midtempo 90s soft rock sensibility, but its eccentric, collage-like intro part provides the perfect jumping-off point. These are some incredible pop instincts: understanding to never stay in one place too long to steer away from the heart of the song itself, setting the bar higher and higher and with increased moxie.

Think of Lily We Need To Talk Now as the shared cinematic universe of all of Konigsberg’s musical endeavors over the past few years, knit together by that sing-in-the-shower pop immediacy she always covets. “That’s The Way I Like It” glistens up that first-thought-best-thought muscle Konigsberg has been avidly developing as a member of Palberta. “Alone” stems from many of the Arthur Russell-esque revisionism of Lily & Horn Horse; the way the song’s slinky disco beat stops halfway and dissolves into a woozy, brass-soaked trance is understatedly moving and gorgeous. The song would have probably ended right there if this was a Horn Horse record, but the beats picks right up again with an added jolt.

“Roses, Again” is a saccharine, almost classical-sounding pop song with deceptive chord changes, fully leaning into her whip-smart chops as a songwriter. It’s so cliché to say that an artist has come full circle in their craft, or ‘maturing’, for lack of a better word. Lily We Need To Talk Now captures an artist telling herself that her creative instincts are righteous in their lack of convention or linear design, especially if you have the right collaborators to entrust those instincts with. Even if this is her most ‘focused’ release yet, the lingering thought after the snappy 24 minutes of Lily We Need To Talk Now is the abundance of upside she still has left to explore. Though, to her credit, Lily Konigsberg has been doing that every time.