Lissie, in many ways, is emblematic of the millennial/post-millennial generation’s golden promise: follow your dream, work social media, find believers, win! Moving to California, her progressive folk found advocacy in Lenny Kravitz, who took her on tour; Paste, who named her the Best of What’s Next in 2010; major-label support from Columbia UK and the trajectory a wunderkind “voice of a generation” long on cred should expect.
For all the acclaim, the young Midwesterner with the intriguing, earthy alto—one that contains hurricanes of emotion without feeling wrought, then glimmers like a flicker of light on water—finds her most potent work measuring what many would consider defeat. After banging against a plateau, Lissie came to grips with the liar’s poker nature of the dreams Hollywood feeds you.
The result: My Wild West. Pondering the loss of innocence, rise of awareness and acceptance over 12 songs and 45 minutes, Lissie demonstrates resilience in the wake of California/stardom’s illusionary appeal.
A rich duskiness tempers her “Mama meet at the station/I’m comin’ home for a while…” in the opening “Hollywood,” suggesting exhaustion more than defeat. While she confesses, “Oh, Hollywood, you broke my will/ Like they said you would,” it is not a capitulation, but recognition.
Primal drums pump and her voice ratchets up—recalling Tori Amos or Florence Welch in both ballast and control—as “Wild West” follows, assessing the reality and costs of her life chasing an ephemera. It travels across the spaghetti Western slink of failed grasping that stains “Hero” and the washed-out quiet piano-driven “Sun Keeps Rising,” suggesting she’s haunted by losing those loved in a world that just goes on.
Careening from obvious loss also tempers “Together and Apart.” But “Apart” suggests the quickening of her resolve; in it, Lissie’s strength and sunshine emerge. “Don’t You Give Up On Me,” with acoustic guitar notes showering down and a brisk tempo, buoyantly declares her emancipation.
Not that she doesn’t waver. Later, “Stay” faces faithless peers, parsing the reasons people disappear, and “Shroud,” a minor-keyed back-and-forth with Alanis Morissette-style evocation, finds her burying the betraying dream.
For a generation coming of age with fewer opportunities, uncertain political realities, rising prices and stagnant wages, West is for the times and of the moment. What makes it truly matter is its reliance on faith and self-awareness. Emerging into the light, “Go For A Walk” employs Lissie’s minimalist folk-pop to find her own joy and reason to be, embracing her true place as an artist, then “Ojai” says goodbye to what was and “welcome home” to where she belongs.
Check out Lissie performing “They All Want You” on a Brooklyn rooftop in the player below.