Lily & Madeleine may not shout or scream, or even cry, but they still want to be heard.
Don’t raise your voice. There’s nothing you cannot express with a modulated delivery. If you sing it sweetly, even the craziest notions seem normal. Sure, let the instruments clamor and crash for effect, but don’t let that impact your vocals. Lily & Madeleine take this to heart on their new album, Fumes, whose vaporous spirit is echoed by the ethereal harmonies of the lead singers. But the word “fumes” also has another meaning. As a verb, “fumes” connotes seething, smoldering rage. The secret of Lily & Madeleine’s talent lies in their ability to evoke the noun “fumes” while contrarily demonstrating its more active implication. The disc bristles even as the two teenage sisters offer false comfort in the form of their intonations.
Consider the outwardly benign “The Wolf is Free”. The title suggests a celebration of a wild animal returning to its native haunts, but the song’s contents are much darker and stranger. Lily & Madeleine croon about the creature with lines like “I want to chase him down and drown him in the sea”. The metaphorical lupus must be a Lothario, as is clear by the end of the song. Despite their homicidal impulse, the two never get loud. In fact, there is a chorus of gentle “la la la's” that goes on for about half a minute during the middle of the track. The music simmers rather than explodes.
The beautiful voices can break your heart, as the duo understands how to blend their voices together with bell-like innocence. When they sing in child-like simplicity about a man who just needs their “Lips & Hips”, the impact is almost pederastic. Lily is 17, isn’t that a bit young to sing such lyrics? As the Beatles and others have told us, “You know what I mean.” And Madeleine at the ripe old age of 19 is the one with the higher-pitched soprano voice and actually sounds like the more juvenile band member. That’s what makes a cut like “Peppermint Candy” seem somewhat more appropriate, but while it may charm, tunes such as “Lips & Hips” devilishly torment. The latter is better!
Sonically, Lily & Madeleine resemble bands such as the Smoke Fairies, The Chapin Sisters, and even Aimee Mann, but the two teens seem to live more surreptitiously than the others. The duo offer monologues that describe their inner lives more than represent the world outside. Sometimes it even sounds like the girls are praying in the sanctuary of a church even though there is nothing particularly spiritual or religious going on. This adds quiet to quiet, but it makes the buzz inside louder by comparison. The girls may not shout or scream, or even cry, but they still want to be heard.
Fumes is music to get lost in and let the vocals be your guide. The impact made by the sounds of the sisters' voices directly connects to that part of your brain that wants to mentally fly away. At 36 short minutes, the trip still manages to take one on an adventurous journey. The pleasing musical surface suggests a Darwinian strategy used to infect a host. This tactic puts a worm in your ear while pretending to kiss it. Be forewarned; One listen is not enough. The disc demands replay after replay so that the 36 minutes turns into hours and one wonders what has happened and where one’s been.