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Lily and Madeleine | Fumes | Album review

Sisters Lily and Madeleine Jurkiewicz returned with their second album, Fumes, in late October ‘14 following on from what was a startlingly strong debut the previous year. It’s a wonder to me that these girls haven’t had the same exposure as their contemporaries have enjoyed, but then that’s made them all the more precious to those in the know, no doubt.

This record, Fumes, is certainly different from the original in so much as there’s a more wholesome sound this time. Initially I was a bit hesitant as I enjoyed some of the folkier songs off the first album for, among several reasons, the strength of the sisters’ vocals – much in the way with The Staves and First Aid Kit, these two make use of soaring harmonies and are clearly two talented vocalists (although I suspect they may have tired of that last comparison).

Some tracks stay true in that sense, with Can’t Admit It being an example to that effect, while others show a more ambitious and experimental side to this group. Now by saying experimental, I don’t mean that anybody should be expecting anything wildly different – only noticeably. The Wolf Is Free demonstrates this, there’s a slight offness to the melody and the shuffling rhythm to the guitar playing – the song is understated, casual and easy, almost a sign of the comfortability that’s been found in exploring their sound.

Another throwback to their more acoustic-based songwriting would be the dramatic Hold on to Now, a slow song with tumbling fingerpicking littering the background while the sisters manipulate their voices in soothing, but pained tones. Something that, for me, was missing in the first few songs of this album makes itself present again in this and the following track, Lips & Hips. The sound of simplicity they evoke, perhaps. Either way these are songs that, when seen live, will change people’s minds of this group in an instant, that will serenade people’s moments of heartbreak in isolation, that will make you feel alive in the way that music does.

Something that I felt about this album on first listening was that perhaps it wasn’t as strong as the debut because the sisters were trying to show a more diverse side to their music, that they’re not just a pair of female folk vocalists, which is absolutely the right direction to want to go in. However there are a few songs which are forgettable because they don’t carry the same sparking trait that their others do, it sounds as though it’s been drowned out in the attempt to compose something denser than guitars and vocals. That said, it then occurred that were I to hear the same songs live it would be likely that I’d enjoy them just as much as those that caught my attention in recorded form.

Closing the album off is the bluesy, give-a-fuck song, Blue Blades. A slow-mover, it has the makings of something grander than previously heard on the record, its sound is weightier and heavy with attitude. The paired vocals give it a shade of light amid the cloud of synth and vacant drums – certainly not the most engaging song, but there is an arresting quality about it. Something hypnotic in its rhythm, but never quite taking off when you expect it to.

Fumes is an accomplished record, although there are still signs that these two young women are growing into what they can do. The fact that we can listen to such progress in this form is something that should be appreciated; Lily & Madeleine have the potential to grow into one of the better contemporary folk acts around at the moment, and I hope sincerely that they do.