PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Lily Holbrook: Everything Was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt

Matt Cibula

It turns out that all any busker wants to do is to make techno-influenced pop music.

Lily Holbrook

Everything Was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt

Label: Back Porch
US Release Date: 2005-03-01
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon affiliate

Boston-based Lily Holbrook got her record deal by busking in T stations and in Harvard Square and other great venues for folky types. You'd think, with folk music being so hip and hot these days, that she would just stick with that for this record, her first for Virgin- and EMI-offshoot Back Porch Records. But no: it turns out that all any busker wants to do is to make techno-influenced pop music.

I do not have a problem with this, either in theory or in practice. This is a lovely album, full of great weird maximalist production touches (those Loch Ness guitar tones on "Better Left Unsaid"!) and hooks that actually stay with the listener. But it doesn't sound anything like all those corny folkie dudes that used to keep me up by singing "Sugar Mountain" on infinite repeat when I lived in Boston.

What it sounds more like is that Lily Holbrook loves Kate Bush and Björk and Joni Mitchell and Juliana Hatfield and Liz Phair more than she is concerned about adhering to any Catie Curtis/Lucy Kaplansky template. She's more of a power hitter than a bunter, and that's great, as far as I'm concerned. Ani DiFranco has gotten more interesting over the years, because she is willing to risk her purist audience to make weirder wilder music; Holbrook must have stolen her playbook, and I couldn't be happier about that, because talent like this needs room to fly.

This is an album that actually wants to be HEARD. I wouldn't be surprised to hear "Bleed", with its dense walls of rockthrob, underscoring the next girl-girl hookup on The O.C., and "When in Rome" (which re-does new wave almost as well as Bowling for Soup or Fountains of Wayne) could completely fit in among the Pinks and Avrils and Hilarys and Fefes and Skyes that have come to brighten up girlpop in the last few years: "You think there's nothing else I'd rather do / Than sit here and sell myself to you". She's got melodies and something to say and a compelling voice, and she wants to rock out sometimes, and I'm in favor of all these things.

Which doesn't mean that Holbrook isn't only about the big hit single. "Mermaids" is portentous Tori-worship, all piano arpeggios and surprising accordion'n'string poignance, a song about remaining inside one's dreamworld to avoid the shitty reality that surrounds us. It's pretty, but Holbrook has no problem with pretty songcraft. "Cowboys and Indians", which actually does sound like folk music, will not leave my head even after the CD is over, and "Running into Walls" is the same way even though it actually pulls out the ancient Humpty Dumpty metaphor. (I thought the Geneva Convention had outlawed this. Clearly, I need to do some research.)

Holbrook does not have a lot of different themes. She is obsessed with notions of conventional female beauty; this is not a bad thing to take aim at, as it is truly one of the worst things about our "modern" society, but she beats this rug on several different tracks and doesn't find anything new to say about it. (If I didn't know better, I'd make some stupid comment here about how it's always the young attractive women who sing about this topic�but I know what assholes kids can be, and I'm sure that Holbrook was just gawky or "unusual-looking" enough to get some mean things said about her. I think she's gotten over that now, judging by the CD photos, but I also know that some scars never heal.) Hopefully, with time, Holbrook will gain a wider songwriting palette.

The song that will gain more than its share of attention will be her cover of Ozzy Osbourne's "Mama, I'm Coming Home". She does this as a tribute to her dead brother Christopher as kind of a trip-hop chillout track, slow and soothing, about as far from a power ballad as this song could ever be, with chattering drum patterns and psychedelic echo effects... but when the strings come in at 2:30, it still brings a bit of a lump to the throat. Then, a minute later, when the final chorus comes, it hits pretty hard.

Okay, yeah, I really like this record. If she didn't swear so much on "Make Them Wonder" ("They want robot sex with a pretty machine / They want a dirty little girl whose mouth tastes clean / Well they're all fucked up on the American dream / Who are they to call me obscene") I'd give this to my daughter to play and learn and memorize. As it is, I might do that anyway, after I listen to it 100 more times myself.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.


The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.