Parker and Lily: Here Comes Winter

[4 February 2003]

By Patrick Schabe

The longstanding relationship between suffering and art has yielded a cornucopia of beautiful and pristine treasures over the centuries. Of these, a great majority of the musical wonders of the world have been the result of troubled relationships. The topic of twisted love is one of music’s universal themes, transgressing genres in a seemingly infinite variety of expression.

For Parker Noon and Lily Wolfe, and their simply-named band, Parker and Lily, this theme infuses their music and is generally at the core of their songwriting and motivation, offering a window into their strange, obsessive love affair. However, instead of infidelity, mistrust, and desire working to create goth moroseness or pained emo, Parker and Lily have developed an oddly discordant twee jazz-pop sound that is simultaneously cheery and somber, sensuous and aloof. With sparse arrangements centered around Noon’s baritone guitar and Wolfe’s various organs, the songs on Here Comes Winter are shimmering and sometimes carnivalesque, but are undercut with a bitterness that results in results in a distinctly wistful tone.

There is, thankfully, another side to Parker and Lily that helps to alleviate what might be an otherwise bleak and alienating listening experience. Interspersed in and among the songs of psychological warfare are jazzy bossa nova tracks and instrumental interludes that show off Wolfe’s playful vibraphone skills and Noon’s penchant for “Sleepwalkers”-like steel guitar. Yet, in spite of the levity that these instruments might add to Here Comes Winter, even these elements come to circle around the sense of strained relations. A part of the reason for this is that, on record, Parker and Lily are definitely a tape band. The majority of these compositions are built out of layered overdubbing that allows for Wolfe and Noon’s various instrumental skills to work in concordance. While a Rhodes or Farfisa might make up a song’s backbone, Wolfe’s vibes will plink in over them, sometimes even doubling up to add to the surreal, chiming ethereality, and while Noon’s baritone guitar rumbles low to match his deep, mumbling delivery, he’ll add the odd haunted steel guitar note or Moog warble to the mix. The result is that the songs created maintain a depth and ambience even as they seem to drift in from a dreamstate.

In fact, Parker and Lily might be best captured in the one song that stands out from the rest of the disc as an aberration. “My Apartment Complex” is the most specifically pop tune on the album, breezy and lighthearted thanks to the combination of Farfisa, Moog, and bells from Noon being cooked up into a calliope soundtrack for Wolfe’s sugary sweet vocals. The lyrics, which veer away from the standard topic of bruised hearts to insomnia, are spare and nonsensical and even drop a clear emphasis on the word “teenage love”. But for all the candyfloss, bubblegum pop aspects of the song, it maintains Parker and Lily’s general presence, a sense of something melancholy and maybe even a little sinister underneath the frosted coating.

When they’re on the more familiar ground of music to match the haunted and obsessive content of their standard fare, it’s hard not to get caught up in the brutal honesty of the lyrics. Sometimes they almost seem like a slideshow montage of a lover’s quarrel. When you hear “I’ll be your blanket you said / But I can’t get warm when we’re together / Your kiss is cold as Iceland and twice as far away” (“Snow Day”), or “My whole drunken world / Is a gaudy frame / For a picture-perfect girl” (“Hello Halo”), nothing is left to chance—you’re not likely to misinterpret the meaning. Still, for how blunt this may seem, there is a level of poeticism that is brought out by the music and imagery of these skeletal songs, as if everything is exposed for effect (or maybe affect).

For all this, it becomes tricky to say whether or not Here Comes Winter is a good or a bad album. You could catch any one of the instrumental tracks, such as the lovely “Separate Rooms”, and think of it as introspective jazz. You might listen to “Hello Halo” or the heart wrenching “Bridge and Tunnel” as Valium-soaked, low-key pop to listen to while bemoaning another broken heart. But as an album, Here Comes Winter is a strange beast. It is monochromatic in the sense that it maintains a consistent tone. It uses instruments that are organic and warm and produces music that is decidedly cold. It filters a frankness and honesty into something that borders on either cruelty or exhumation when held up to the public eye. Whether these things make for a great listen is certainly subjective, but whether Parker and Lily achieve their aims is beyond question. Interesting, complicated, and disturbingly compelling, Here Comes Winter is another release from a band that has made an art out of airing the dirty laundry of their suffering, placing them in good company with music’s history.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/parkerandlily-here/