Lillie West initially started Lala Lala as a way to communicate things that she felt she could never say out loud. But on The Lamb, her sophomore LP and debut for Hardly Art, she has found strength in vulnerability. Through bracing hooks and sharp lyrics, the 24-year-old songwriter and guitarist illustrates a nuanced look on her own adulthood — her fraught insecurity, struggles with addiction, and the loss of several people close to her.
Originally from London, West moved with her family to Los Angeles, where she spent her teenage years, and later to Chicago, where she enrolled at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Inspired by those cities’ DIY music communities, she started Lala Lala as an outlet where she could process her new experiences, which often involved toxic relationships and partying around the city with beloved friends. The turbulence in West’s life throughout that period resulted in an abrasive but tender debut album, Sleepyhead (self-released, 2016). West decided to quit drinking, and she began booking her own DIY tours across the country. Sobriety provided her with a newfound sense of self and clarity, and she began writing the songs for The Lamb while also starting the process of re-learning how to live her life.
Across the album’s 12 tracks, West carefully examines the skeletons in her closet for the first time, hoping to capture honest snapshots of her past selves. After testing a handful of the new songs while on the road, The Lamb’s final form came together while recording at Rose Raft Studio in rural Illinois. Performed by West with Emily Kempf on bass/backup vocals and Ben Leach on drums, the musical arrangements of the album — blending post punk with dream pop influences that incorporate vibrant synths, a drum machine, and even saxophone — find a balance between light and dark, reinforcing these dynamic and intimate songs that will surely resonate.
It was really hard, but I picked “Cellophane” by FKA Twigs, the song and the video. I can’t remember how I first heard it. I think it was just the whisperings — “She’s back!” It was the first song she released from the new album, and I watched the video with the song.
I just thought it was so incredibly enchanting and engaging in every way. The beginning of the video is so dramatic — I thought maybe it was a reference to The Fifth Element where the alien is singing, and then the alien dies. I don’t know if it actually references that at all, but…
Also, the production of the song. It feels so simple and so quiet with the synths and her voice, and the sound of her shoe moving on the glass. Also, she’s obviously an amazing dancer. I was totally enchanted with what she was doing right off the bat.
“Didn’t I do it for you?” is the most heartbreaking, relatable lyric of all time. When you are rejected by someone in any way, shape, or form — this is specifically romantic, but any way, there’s still this part of your brain that’s like, Why didn’t I do it for you? Why wasn’t I good enough? She says it in all different ways: “Didn’t I do it for you?”; “Why don’t I do it for you?”; and then, “Everything I do is for you.” It’s just so devastating. It touches a nerve for, I think, every person. It’s so real.
Something that I have been thinking about is, there’s this Tim Kinsella piece I really like that he wrote. It’s specifically about Chicago, but it’s about hybridity. I think that, with this song, she’s walking the line as she often does between vulnerability and strength and sexuality. She talks about that — she’s all about being all these things at once. I actually thought about that piece and her stuff, because that’s what I’ve always loved about Chicago — it’s all these different things coming together. She’s the master of walking the line between worlds and feelings and genres and spaces. She’s never one thing.
This album I’ve really dove in and been like, This is a true visionary. I think this is one of the best songs I’ve ever heard, and videos I’ve ever seen.
As told to Annie Fell.