Keep it Together
Reviewed by: Max Miller
Lily & Madeleine, the duo of Indianapolis sisters Lily and Madeleine Jurkiewicz, have the kind of origin story unique to the past decade. Like artists as diverse as Carly Rae Jepsen, Justin Bieber and the Weeknd, these sisters were discovered on YouTube, the video streaming platform which beats out the likes of Spotify and Pandora when it comes to drawing numbers. Their folksy originals like “In the Middle” and “Back to the River,” made while they were still in high school, drew the attention of Sufjan Stevens’ Asthmatic Kitty Records. Now, two full-lengths later, Lily & Madeleine have released Keep It Together, their third LP, and first for New West Records. While there’s always pressure on any artist releasing a new album, one suspects a duo like Lily & Madeleine must work especially hard to prove that the spark that so attracted fans to their early songs doesn’t go out.
The key ingredient to the sisters’ appeal is clearly their pristine vocal interplay, as they dramatically shift between unison and harmonized vocal lines. The dynamic effect this produces was especially noticeable in the days when their music consisted of no more than a single acoustic guitar and their voices. Against the chill, Kurt Vile-esque rock backing of a cut like “For the Weak,” it loses some of its impact. On the eerie “Westfield,” however, the sisters benefit from more production, as a ghostly echo applied to the verses’ lingering syllables emphasizes the sisters’ subtle vibrato, and falsetto passages shimmer in the background, as if materializing out of the ether.
The somberness of “Westfield” manifests itself again on tracks like the heartbroken “Chicago” and the twinkling, percussion-heavy “Hotel Pool,” harkening to the masterful melancholia of Sharon Van Etten’s Are We There or Natalie Prass’s self-titled LP. Meanwhile, closer “Nothing” may be the most conventionally appealing showcase for Lily & Madeleine’s harmonies. It reminds me of the comment section of their video for “In the Middle,” the first song that broke them through to a larger audience. While the song debuted back in 2012, the majority of recent comments are from newfound fans who discovered the sisters through the song’s appearance in Slow Learners, an indie rom-com from last August.
A record like Keep It Together will probably appeal to longstanding fans of Lily & Madeleine, but the way the duo might best expand their audience is if one of the songs here finds its way into a film or TV show. Just as with their early YouTube days, Lily & Madeleine’s strength lies in the surprise appeal of stumbling across one of their well-crafted tunes, whether on a playlist or in a movie.