Fingerstyle guitar. Atypical detours in melody. An LGBTQ+ couple embarking on a joint project. You can cherry-pick the aspects you like, but at the heart of the new Lily on the River single is, really, all of it: the uncompromising songcraft, a commitment to difference, and the gender narrative.
“Unhappy Serenity” paints an idyllic picture that’s deceptively simple. From an art theory standpoint, that (“deceptively simple”) may sound like pap, but if you’re an artist who’s had to negotiate accessibility against inventiveness, you would know that such a conundrum carries the urgency of a hostage-taking at high noon. And Lily on the River knows the score, not just from being a real-life WLW couple, but also from being a pair of seemingly incongruous collaborators attempting to join heads.
Pixie Labrador and Erin Lee both have had promising solo trajectories, but when their surprise collaboration in February of 2020 (the guitar-and-piano ballad “You Are”) snagged a million streams just five months since its release, the twosome knew it wasn’t going to be the last. Instead of embarking on familiar terrain, however, they decided to refashion themselves as Lily on the River, armed with a debut offering (“Unhappy Serenity”) which is, happily, forged in reimaginings and reconsiderations.
It is there, in the curious guitar phrasing countered by familiar harmonies. There, in the vibrant portrait where the lover is but a dot in the larger tapestry of nature. There, in the tearful strings that egg you on with luscious lows and heaving highs. “Unhappy Serenity” is a Wordsworth-worthy dance of contradictions: the stunning irrelevance of love when taken against everything; the splendor and majesty of romance even when confronted by seemingly insurmountable odds.
“Unhappy” sounds like a postmortem to a love that hasn’t so much met its untimely end but has gone the way of the current. Because while we’re all “wrapped in this,” waters run, winds waylay, and woes persist. In the end, we find that sorrow can be a warm blanket, too: a cocoon to nestle ourselves in, not just a blackness we get swallowed by.