Mal Blum, Fenne Lily
22 Rock City Road
Woodstock, NY, 12498
Doors 7:00 PM / Show 8:00 PM
Lucy Dacus is done thinking small. Two years after her 2016 debut, No Burden, won her unanimous acclaim as one of rock's most promising new voices, Dacus returns on March 2 with Historian, a remarkably assured 10-track statement of intent. It finds her unafraid to take on the big questions — the life-or-death reckonings, and the ones that just feel that way. It's a record full of bracing realizations, tearful declarations and moments of hard-won peace, expressed in lyrics that feel destined for countless yearbook quotes and first tattoos.
"This is the album I needed to make," says Dacus, who views Historian as her definitive statement as a songwriter and musician. "Everything after this is a bonus."
She emphasizes that she does not take her newfound platform as a touring musician for granted. "I have this job where I get to talk to people I don't know every night," she remembers thinking on the long van rides across America to support No Burden. Realizing that she would have a dramatically expanded audience for her second album, she felt an urgent call to make something worthwhile: "The next record should be the thing that's most important to say."
The past year, with its electoral disasters and other assorted heartbreaks, has been a rough one for many of us, Dacus included. She found solace in crafting a thoughtful narrative arc for Historian, writing a concept album about cautious optimism in the face of adversity, with thematic links between songs that reveal themselves on repeat listens. "It starts out dark and ends hopeful, but it gets darker in between; it goes to the deepest, darkest, place and then breaks," she explains. "What I'm trying to say throughout the album is that hope survives, even in the face of the worst stuff."
Dacus and her band recorded the album in Nashville last March, re-teaming with No Burden producer Collin Pastore, and mixed it a few months later with A-list studio wizard John Congleton. The sound they created, with substantial input from multi-instrumentalist and live guitarist Jacob Blizard, is far richer and fuller than the debut — an outward flowering of dynamic, living, breathing rock and roll. Dacus' remarkable sense of melody and composition are the driving force throughout, giving Historian the immersive feel of an album made by an artist in full command of her powers.
The album opens with a striking three-track run. First comes "Night Shift," the only breakup song Dacus has ever written: "In five years I hope the songs feel like covers, dedicated to new lovers," she memorably declares. Next is the catchy, upbeat first single "Addictions," inspired in part by the dislocated feeling of life on the road and the lure of familiarity ("I’m just calling cause I’m used to it/And you’ll pick up cause you’re not a quitter…"), followed by "The Shell," a reflection on (and embrace of) creative burnout. There's nothing tentative about this opening sequence. Right away, it's clear that Dacus is on a new level of truth-telling and melodic grace.
Another key highlight is track five, "Yours & Mine" — "the centerpiece where the whole album hinges in on itself," Dacus says. Using a call-and-response format, she wrestles with the question of how best to participate in a community broken by injustice and fear while staying true to what one believes is right. "It's about realizing your power as a person, and deciding to do the less safe but ultimately more powerful move, which is to move physically forward — show up and march — and move forward politically," says Dacus, who began writing the song during the 2015 Baltimore Uprising against systemic racism.
Historian closes with two stunning songs: "Pillar of Truth," a heartfelt tribute to Dacus' late grandmother, and "Historians," which sums up the album's complex lessons about loss. "From the first song to 'Pillar of Truth,' the message is: You can't avoid these things, so accept them. There's ways to go about it with grace and gratefulness," she says. "Then 'Historians' says that even if you can say that, there's still fear, and loss is terrifying. You still love things, so it's going to hurt. But dark isn't bad. It's good to know that.”
"The thing about Mal's songs is that they will rip your heart out of your fucking chest but also will make you laugh at the same time"
Chris Gethard - The Chris Gethard Show
“Spending Friday night alone/I’m reading Campus frat boy porn/strewn on the table/for my roommate/when he finally gets home”
And so opens the first track on Mal Blum’s new LP You Look a Lot Like Me out on Don Giovanni Records October 2nd. In many ways, the scene is immediately set for the record that follows: one that that vastly explores themes of struggle and loneliness through a lens of self-effacing humor. Though perhaps an odd choice for the opening line off most bands’ label debut, this immediate leap into first person narrative is unsurprising in this case.
Marissa Paternoster (guitarist/singer of Screaming Females) produced the album, going through sixteen songs Mal had written and paring them down to ten that made the final cut.
This collaborative effort resulted in a stripped-down, punk-influenced, indie rock record—a tighter, plugged-in, and less scrappy version of Mal’s work, emphasized by big guitar hooks, crunchy distortion, and that signature vocal flare and lyrical ingenuity Mal Blum has always showcased.
A more mature record than previous releases, due to both time and experience, Mal has written a fully realized, cohesive LP, which is ironic in some ways.
“When I wrote all the songs on the album I was so depressed at that time that I actually didn’t have a concept that I was writing songs. But when I started feeling better everything started to come into place: Don Giovanni wanted me to put out the album, then they put me in touch with Marissa to produce it.”
In many ways, the album is a mental health record, written when Mal was at a low point, and re-worked and polished at a high one. Though at times deceptive, large themes of avoidance (“Reality TV,” “Better Go” and “Cool Party”), escapism (“Iowa” and “New Orleans”), isolation (“Split, Splitting), obsessive thought patterns (“Archive,”) and even the therapeutic process itself (“The Shrink Thinks”) are carefully woven throughout the LP.
Not many artists can count up a massive 50 million+ streams off the back of a debut album written
in their teens, but then again, not many young artists are Fenne Lily. Raised in the wilds of rural
Dorset, UK to punk and Queen-loving parents, the 20-year-old talent first picked up the guitar
aged 15, and quickly found she was a natural. “Growing up in the countryside was amazing,” she
explains. “I had so much space, and loads of time with no distractions – that’s why I learnt an
instrument, because I didn’t have anything else to do!”
Just one year later and she’d written the delicate but powerful ‘Top To Toe’, which deftly tackled
social anxiety over softly picked guitar; a song about bleak adolescence that almost everyone
could relate to. Self-released, it saw the young unknown attract global attention for her sublime
songwriting ability and sharp emotional intelligence, as well as her gifted way with melody. British
fashion house Burberry came knocking on her door and asked her perform for them in Paris,
thanks to the song’s subtle channeling of Laura Marling, as well as the swooning sound of Angel
Olsen, Sharon Van Etten and underground 1960s psychedelic greats like Linda Perhacs.
Fenne’s sound was elegant, addictive and blowing up the hype machine. Now, though, she’s
gearing up to release her debut album and proving she’s much more than your typical acoustic
songwriter. So if you’re after a record full of soft, sweetly packaged ballads, then you’ve come to
the wrong place. “I don’t want to be a folk singer, even though that’s what comes easy to me,”
she states. “I don’t want to disappoint the people who liked ‘Top To Toe’, but I don’t want to
Instead, Fenne’s ploughing a tougher path, joining forces with Isle of Wight band Champs, who
offer up the crisp, crunchy backing of a full band while her lush vocals and stark lyricism takes
centre stage. Although she sings about heartbreak, she’s quick to state that her songs aren't
about wallowing in misery. “My music comes from anger, but I can’t sing angrily, so I sing sadly.
It’s a sadness that’s fueled by fury.” This is Fenne all over. She’s straight up and to the point. As
she puts it herself, there’s “no fannying about” when it comes to her music and that’s what makes
it all the more special.
Though Fenne had been gigging in Bristol since she was 15, with her dad driving her up for shows
two or three times a month, she finally moved to the city when she was 18, embarking on an art
foundation course and discovering a love of photography – she shoots all her own artwork,
inspired by the candid work of Wolfgang Tillmans – during her studies. Upon arrival in the city,
Fenne flung herself into the local music scene and joined forces with Chiverin; the growing music
community founded by her now-manager. “All my friends are doing super trendy techno music or
are in badass bands,” says Fenne, which goes some of the way to explaining the enticing
evolution of her sound, setting her apart from the mainstream indie and folk worlds.
Hers is a sound all of her very own, with stream-of-consciousness vocals directly tapping into raw
emotion and careful, considered songwriting. So considered, in fact, that most of Fenne’s musical
output to date has ended up on the album. “I’m not prolific at all,” she explains. “I’ve probably
only written 20 songs in my whole life. I wait for the perfect time, when I literally can’t not talk
about something anymore. I’m not very good at speaking about my feelings but eventually I have
to write a song.”
Written in sporadic bursts, the tracks were predominantly recorded in Bristol and on the Isle of
Wight with producers Tamu Massif and James Thorpe, while ‘Brother’ was recorded with and
produced by PJ Harvey collaborator John Parish. Most of the album digs into the break-up of her
first important relationship and the pain that followed. The moody ‘Three Oh Nine’ – named after
the date her lover left – is an anthem of acceptance and resignation that somehow manages to
encompass both Lana Del Rey’s soaring majesty and Marika Hackman’s grunge-pop sass. “It was
written the morning after he told me he was leaving and that we had three months to try and still
be in love, but I’d already started grieving,” says Fenne of the emotive highlight in a record of
many. ‘On Hold’ meanwhile makes for one of the album’s “two positive songs”, an upbeat, Mac
DeMarco inspired tribute to her best friend Felix, who she met immediately after the break-up.
“He was also really sad. So we were just sad together and He made me feel like it was OK to feel
‘More Than You Know’ – the second song Fenne ever wrote after ‘Top To Toe’ – hints at the
guitar sound on Bon Iver’s seminal ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’ and was recorded in three takes,
making for one of the more organic, minimal recordings on the album. The crashing, Kate
Bush-worthy ‘The Hand You Deal’ is, Fenne admits, the most harrowing song here. A haunting
epic, it sees her accepting her fate, with layered vocals crooning: “I don’t try to wake/There’s
nothing in my day that I want to replay”. “I was just in so much pain,” she says of her state of
mind while she was writing the song. Catharsis, though, is there in ‘Carpark’, the last track
recorded for the album, and a song which offers a glimmer of hope within the bleakness. “I wrote
it really angry at this guy and it marked the end of my choices towards men – I’ve made this
decision for the last time!” she states.
Fenne’s sadness however, is UK music’s gain. She isn’t just one to watch for 2018, she’s one you
won’t be able to keep your eyes off for a second.