Lily Seabird – Alas,

Confidence can come in many different forms. There’s the swaggering kind, sure. The big, brash conviction that can come when you know exactly what it is you want, when you want it. But there are plenty of other kinds as well. Quiet and understated, this kind of confidence can be more subtle, rooted not in unwavering belief but in the acknowledgement of doubt; in vulnerability rather than an impenetrable cool; in the willingness to break down knowing full well you can build back up.

To hear the latest work from Vermont-based songwriter Lily Seabird is to experience the full range of confidence. It’s an astonishing LP versed in loss, uncertainty, and exposure, but with the courage and fortitude of a songwriter coming into their own. 

What Seabird is doing throughout Alas, is quite impressive in its own right – which we will get into – but just as fascinating is the context around her latest record. Just as is happening down in Asheville, NC with the likes of Wednesday, MJ Lenderman, and Indigo De Souza, Burlington, VT is fostering something special within the world of alt-country/shoegaze/indie rock. There is an important triumvirate bubbling to the surface which helps explain what makes Vermont’s burgeoning scene so special, a trio that has their fingerprints all over this record. 

Lily Seabird, Greg Freeman, and Dari Bay now have the distinction of releasing three of my favorite albums in each of the past three years. Distinct, idiosyncratic and altogether excellent, the streak began back in 2022 with Freeman’s I Looked Out, a blistering bit of scraped and scarred alt-country in the vein of Jason Molina and Neil Young. Then came Bay’s lighter and more playful Longest Day Of The Year: a kind of lo-fi shower beer of a record with charm (and pedal steel) to spare.

Which brings us to Seabird and her latest record (and second overall), an album which features not only Seabird’s aching, scorched songwriting but both Freeman and Bay on guitar, drums, piano, keys and more.

Listening to Alas, gives a distinct feeling of joining in on long-gestating friendships just as they are reaching a new point in their creative partnership. Perhaps it can be attributed to this obvious camaraderie, but one of the more impressive bits of Alas, that continues to come to the fore is just how damn good the whole thing sounds from a production level. Plenty of records can blast the doors off the hinges, while just as many are content to draw you in with quiet and control, but few can move between these poles so seamlessly.

A song like “Cavity” – with its tumbling piano, flutter of a wayward saxophone, and gentle drip of a guitar solo – placed beside something like “Waste” – an over six-minute exercise in cranked-up catharsis – is incredibly rare, and can’t be taken for granted. “Grace” may be Alas,’s most obvious single purely for the way it pulls in the edges of the record into one concise statement, with Seabird’s memory of fleeting young love becoming just the kind of place where chaotic, untethered emotion can smear the edges of pure pop songwriting.

None of it works quite so well without Seabird at the center. Her work as vocalist and lyricist finds a cool middle ground between Wednesday’s Karly Hartzman and Adrianne Lenker, emoting just as fluidly in the loudest moments as in the most withdrawn. Dissolving love, willful ignorance, and that liminal space between yesterday and tomorrow are all covered here, but it is how she conveys these messages that sticks with you most. Seabird is a clearly powerful vocalist who knows just when to let her voice slip, when to stretch a syllable past its breaking point, and when to show as much as tell.

Alas, is such a complete statement that it almost feels unnecessary to look to what might come next from this collection of talent but, as is right there in the album title, this does feel like the both the beginning and end of something. Seabird, Freeman, and Bay have announced themselves as massive talents still firmly falling into best-kept-secret territory. Alas, the trio won’t be a secret for long.

Support Alas, on Bandcamp. And if you’re in the area, catch Lily Seabird at Baby’s All Right in Brooklyn this Friday night (2/16/24).

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