Evolve is the full length debut album from Australian band Lillye. It is a good job this review makes use of the written word as I have no idea how such a name is said so fortunately cannot embarrass myself by butchering the pronunciation. The group is fronted by (presumably the namesake of the band) Virginia Lillye, a singer who spent ten years performing in musical theatre before ‘tapping into her true calling’ of being a rock vocalist. Having a professional singer on board bodes well for the quality of a debut album and one would hope that a good vocal performance is pretty much a given. But do the rest of the musicians and, more importantly, the song-writing hold up?
On the opening track things go well for all of about five seconds. Run starts with an upbeat, engaging riff that sticks to that great rock tradition of being simple yet effective. Then the vocals start, giving a starting line instruction to the listener of “On your marks, get set, ready, gooooo!!”. I have an (arguably irrational) dislike of openings such as this and it takes a particularly good song for me to forgive it as an introduction. It is akin to bands opening a live set with “Are you ready?”. It is not a serious question so why bother? They are hardly going to delay starting the show if someone says no. In both an album and a live context all it does is raise listener expectations, suggesting we are about to experience something new and extreme that our delicate composure is not prepared for. When I haven’t heard the band before I tend to expect bitter disappointment from this point on, but fortunately Run defies that expectation. Lillye’s vocals are strong, distinctive and well-suited to this kind of style. The more restrained verse sections feature a more rhythmic vocal line before a more traditional melodic chorus kicks in: a chorus with some singing that is a tad nasal, but I am being pedantic to point that out. Remove the vocal introduction and Run a very respectable opening song.
It is track two where things get interesting. My personal highlight of the album, In The End is neither the heaviest song available nor the one with the grandest sonic scope, but it has a musical cohesion and groove that really suits Lillye. Any guitarists listening will appreciate the interplay between chords and single note riffing. The band work well together to take the song dynamic from fast rhythms to heavier interludes to the big melodic chorus. Sure, many will just dismiss it as the ‘single’ of the album, but there is more to it than just a vocal hook to grab those hindered by short attention spans. There are more traditional, heavier rock songs on show as the album continues: It Is What It Was has particularly grand ambitions and Lillye puts in an impressive vocal performance, belting out notes with power and emotion. She really shows off her abilities throughout the album, often flitting between several styles and registers in a single song. Sometimes this works, at others it just sounds a little chaotic. Chained particularly sounds like it needs a second vocalist, that way the quieter, eerie vocal line could interact with the dominant line more effectively.
Evolve is definitely an album that deserves a few listens before you make your judgement. This is not so that you can force yourself to like it. Every song here has some merit, obviously some more than others, but it is only after a few listens that some of these parts become apparent and you appreciate the musical talent on display that little bit more. For anyone after an album that experiments with the more traditional rock song format without going to the marathon lengths of more progressive albums then this is the band for you. Lillye have a lot of potential and Evolve is an intriguing and respectable debut, deserving attention for it’s originality even if some songs don’t quite hit the mark. I’ve already forgotten that annoying first few seconds.
Highlights: In The End, Chained and It Is What It Was.
Evolve is released on May 18th 2018 via Eclipse Records and you can pre-order it here.