You needn’t look far to appreciate everyone’s infatuation with nostalgia. Stranger Things and Disney live-action remakes are all among those profiting from our warm associations with the past. Though Penelope Isles’ debut LP Until the Tide Creeps In revolves around reminiscence, their jaunt through untenable moments of initiation into adulthood incites a quandary of more complex emotions. With brother-sister songwriting duo Lily and Jack Wolter serving as the cornerstone to the quartet’s indie pop-rock, what might seem like a painful trip through first heartbreaks, insecurities and goodbyes is softened by this sibling solidarity.
Six years the senior to Lily, brother Jack departed home for University to hone his songwriting among a hive of talented grassroots musicians. Upon returning home, Lily’s musical intentions had mirrored her sibling’s. The pair toured briefly under the guise of Your Gold Teeth until the lack of a music scene and desire to study songwriting forced Lily to Brighton. Whilst there, she played with Jack Sowton and Becky Redford (KookieLou) before Jack rounded out the quartet which now represents Penelope Isles. With synth and psych elements thrown into DIY indie rock, their jolting contradictions of ethereal swells and raucous riffs has captivated audiences worldwide.
Album opener “Chlorine” is a standout summer indie jam. An underlying groove penetrates crunchy slashes of guitar juxtaposed against silky smooth jazz lead licks. Its chorus oozes with overdrive amid accosting lyricism detailing a family in division; “You left your head up, I hope it kills your swollen ego”. Chords shift and shake through the close to give phased combative guitars space to waltz with one another.
“Round” picks up the torch and adds some funky slacker melodies to the ensemble. The opening lead lick is one of many insatiable hooks amid a chord progression that toes a line between delight and despair. Sounding like a seductive stare and careless rebuff, Jack illustrates the push and pull of a first love that engenders insecurity. Next, some smokey arpeggiated guitar amid an ethereal amalgam of vocals and synths ushers in the twisted lullaby “Not Talking”. The soundscape washes twinkling xylophones and quivering guitars into one another, managing to produce a bipolar environment that’s both sinister and soothing. The band’s ability to craft a song’s structure in the vein of its themes is distinctive here again, evoking doubt in perpetuated monotony; “We don’t listen to each other… we go moving in a pattern, we go moving paste each other”. Wurlitzer keys and laser leads tread further into the abstract on synth-pop number “Underwater Record Store”. Lily’s first foray to the front is soft and sweet, imbuing melodies with levity as basslines cheekily slink outside their anticipated progressions. Its chorus explodes with vivid quirk and colour as synths pitch shift and resonate with haunting discord.
Though downtempo, there remains an underlying urgency to “Three”. Driving toms propel a progressive drama that plays out against restful keys and languid vocals. A testament to the arranging, this perpetual tension never fully releases, hereby mirroring Jack’s sentiments; “Tell me why you play these games… you know you might not as well not be here my dear”. Whilst purposeful, its monotony frustrates relative to other satisfying releases on the record.
“Gnarbone” is an attempt at a seven-minute propulsive exploration. Though not quite living up to its namesake of being beyond the boundaries of gnarly, there’s a distinct channelling of Billy Corgan in the vocals and M83 in the spoken word samples in the solos. Famous for being a live showstopper, the recorded version doesn’t offer much outside of the realm of recycled rock tropes thrown under the veil of accessible shoegaze. Thankfully, “Leipzig” offers a refreshing take on psychedelic pop. The key hook is made all the more compelling by an asymmetrical loop of the main passage. As the chorus poses a wistful, candy-eyed question, “What was it even like before?”, there’s a suitably 90s sense of nostalgia when the closing keys form the lead lick.
Keys and acoustic fingerpicks entwine on the lilting “Looking For Me/Eyes Closed”. Contemporary folk hereby combines twinkling keys and more resonant synth passages. Lily’s vocals also afford a soft rasp that intones both delicacy and damage in her premonitions; “Diving in head first is a bad idea”. Percussive and melodic elements flitter among the arrangement to give the downtempo tune a vitality and soft spoken animacy.
“Cut Your Hair” returns to more rollicking rock. Intimating The Black Keys with crunchy guitar and attenuated drumming, the chorus then counters this abrasive intro with shimmery arpeggiations and angelic coos. The back half melds these elements for a euphoric swell of sound that barrels through the listener. Psychedelic phased effects are the icing that glazes this late gem.
Penelope Isles close the curtain with a waltz in “Through The Garden”. Hypnotic and dreamy, there’s more keys with interesting synth inflections interspersed throughout. Lily’s vocals remain as crisp as ever for a beautifully serene aesthetic that similarly opened the album, albeit in a more upbeat fashion. Whilst not entirely offering anything new, it surmises the overarching sounds and intention of the record.
Penelope Isles’ debut harbours crafty songwriting via plentiful hooks and stimulating sounds. Faithfully capturing their emphatic live presence is made even more impressive by its DIY construction. However, moments where classic rock tropes already traversed are evident are only burdened by neighbouring tracks’ bright originality. The future looks promising for the English outfit provided they continue to blaze their own trails.