On Hold, the debut album from Dorset singer-songwriter Fenne Lily, is aptly-named as it has seemed to have taken an age to arrive.
Her debut song, “Top to Toe” was released back in 2016, a crowd-pleasing cutesy folk charmer that has now reached over 20 million Spotify streams. Drawing comparisons to Laura Marling and Sharon Von Etten in the process, her simple but sublime sound has been at the heart of several follow up previews, including “What’s Good”, one of our picks from last summer.
On the surface, her songs seem to be the epitome of minimal folk ethic, but with some subtle production and backing, On Hold brings Fenne Lily out of the predictable, giving her something individual and arguably brings her songs into more accessible territory. ‘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 that (“Top To Toe”), but I don’t want to become pigeonholed.’
This is demonstrated very clearly by the different versions of “Car Park” that bookend the album. Album closer, “Car Park (overflow)” is almost lo-fi, and shows how Fenne’s songs can work at either level, acoustic or electric.
The album kicks off with the actual version of “Car Park” and begins like Beach House, distorted moody guitars that wash out as her voice brings the song into her own domain with luscious harmonies.
‘I wonder if you saw that I was sorry for the beating of my heart’, she sings, suggesting that we are not in for an uplifting album . “Car Park” was the last song to be written, chronicling a ‘period of false hope and turmoil’, she says. ‘I cannot and will not blame my heartache on anyone but myself, so this isn’t a song about pain, it’s a song about power; about putting the ball in your own court; about knowing when to wave goodbye to the things that make you ache in order to make space for those that help you grow.’
There’s heartbreak on the album, its themes taken from her first important relationship and subsequent break-up, but it’s not angsty. The contrasts are constant, her voice is sweet yet sorrowful, full of beauty and hurt. ‘My music comes from anger, but I can’t sing angrily, so I sing sadly. It’s a sadness that’s fuelled by fury.’
Album high point “Three Oh Nine” continues in this vein, with Fenne revealing that the video ‘was borne out of fury, not defeat. It’s an ode to the post break up ‘f*** you’.’ At the beginning of the song you can hear every breath, every waver of the vocal and this fragility gives way to a fullness of sound to become something even more beautiful.
Of the songs not yet released, “The Hand you Deal” is less instant but has a vital, epic feel and is the closest you’ll get to ‘beats’ on the album. “More than you know” suffers a little from being sandwiched between this and the title track. It is more acoustic and has less impact than some of the more stripped back familiar numbers that make up the second half (“Bud”, “Brother”).
Title track “On Hold” sounds like it could be from Cat Power’s The Greatest, again seemingly straightforward but with much more depth than is first apparent. Fenne says it was written as a ‘thank you for the warmth of the world when I was at my lowest and I wanted the video that accompanied it to be a raw representation of this gratitude….I feel this video communicates a joy that often goes untold.’
It’s an album full of raw emotion and honesty and can be a lot to take in on first listen. It’s certainly not an album to have on in the background. Despite this, each song soars when played in isolation and demands full attention.
On Hold is an album for all seasons, for candlelit evenings alone, for introspective car journeys, for teary eyes and tearing up those old love letters you shouldn’t own. Despite the sadness and heartbreak there’s always hope. Like Fenne does in the video for “On Hold”, you can always swap those stompy DMs for roller boots…just try and keep the right balance.
On Hold is available on April 6 and her European tour kicks off on the same day.
Fenne Lily on the web: