As far as local success stories go, Bella & Lily is pretty up there among their fellow Saint Louis musicians. They've performed at venues such as Blueberry Hill and The Pageant and have been a headlining act at LouFest. Their Kickstarter campaign successfully funded their debut album and then some. Their music producer, Henry Hirsch, is known for throwing his abilities behind such stars as Madonna and Lenny Kravitz. Now that their new Kickstarter-powered album "Count To Ten" has hit the streets, could it possibly live up to the expectations of a local fan base who were willing to throw money at something they hadn't heard first?
Bella & Lily have the grounded, deep vocals of Ingrid Michaelson, the atmospheric lyrics of Fiona Apple, and the instrumental aptitude of Sara Bareilles, but with a final product that is very much of their own unique making. Bella's vocals dominate the album as does her writing prowess - a majority of the six tracks on "Count To Ten" are written by her - but when Bella and Lily sing together, these sisters show they can harmonize with the best of them.
Although "Count To Ten" only has six tracks, the length of a standard EP rather than a full album, it has a depth and variety of sound that makes it sound fuller and more complete. The album opens with its titular track, which sets the stage for the other five tracks with its professional production levels, rich vocals, and Bella's ace piano skills. It's a cheerful pick-me-up sort of song that is destined for heavy radio play if it hasn't already, with an infectious, organic sounding hook that some artists only dream of creating.
The title track is followed by "What They Don't Know", and the album slows down for a song in which a girl revels in the fact that onlookers don't know that she has a boyfriend and her boyfriend is awesome. It's a shallow song on paper but when performed against Bella's moody piano, it succeeds. The opening lyrics have a coquettish flirtation to it that gives the song an underlying sexual boldness, declaring the singer incredible and sexy but very much off the market. It also has a great backing track from drummer Ernesto Karolys, which gives what could have been a softer song a needed spine for its tempo.
"Messed Up Avenue" is the album's most atmospheric song and one of the strongest. It's a song destined for listening to while walking down a quiet street at twilight, the only other sounds being the cicadas and the distant sounds of the city. It's also the first track to showcase Lily on acoustic guitar and makes me wonder what an acoustic cover of "Count To Ten" would have sounded like as a B-side.
"Circus" and "Letters To Nowhere" are a duology of songs on regret and love past their expiration date. "Circus" is a woman wondering if she can still reach out to her ex-lover or if it's too late to reconnect. It's opening is the best of the whole album, mixing samples of people at the circus with a fading in piano track that pulls listeners in completely. The only thing "Circus" suffers from is that it falls back upon the indie twee 'da da da' lyrics to fill in empty space, but luckily the vocals are strong enough to pull through these spots of mindless hipster scatting.
"Letters To Nowhere" is about wanting to reach out to someone but not being able to, whether it's because of self-doubt or not being sure where to send their letter. Naturally, as good songwriters do, said doubts get turned into a song. Aside from a few awkward breaking transitions from verse to chorus, it's a solid song that showcases Bella and Lily's harmony as well as Bella's piano.
We end with "Chase The Moon", which opens with Lily's acoustic guitar and both sisters voices singing in a sweet, mournful fashion that harkens back to late Elliott Smith, of all people. The song is a wandering fancy, two people drifting and searching for direction and looking beyond the Earth into the heavens for something better. As the ending cap of "Count To Ten", it pulls together the various themes of dreamy wandering and looking for something better, and its sparse use of instruments leads Bella and Lily's voices to shine through at their clearest.
There is something earnest about Bella & Lily's music. It never sounds overproduced or fake, there's no overwhelming digital trickery meant to gild the lily of their voices, and they actually play their own instruments. They may not be the next Tegan & Sara in terms of female duo singer/songwriters but the two groups wouldn't be strange bedfellows on a mix together.
If anything, Bella & Lily's first album proves that when Saint Louis music fans find a good thing, they support it fully. It's up to their fans now to support these songstress sisters all the way to the national stage.