Less Sweet Life
Indie-folk duo Lemoncello last month released their second EP Oil and Water, a four-track exploration of themes of love and nature, melded with close vocal harmonies, guitar, and, of course, cello. It’s the sombre follow-up record to their 2018 debut Stuck Upon the Staircase, a three-track EP of bright and floaty songs, one of which, ‘Mantelpiece’, has garnered over one million Spotify streams. Oil and Water sees the duo move towards a more darkly inflected sound.
The duet of songwriter Laura Quirke and cellist Claire Kinsella would find themselves at home with fellow Irish contemporaries including Lisa Hannigan, Saint Sister, David Keenan, and Maija Sofia. Lemoncello’s niche, however, is their blend of original indie-folk style songs and arrangements with a distinct classical influence, executed through Kinsella’s cello playing. This EP also sees them explore new instrumentation with the use of harp, double bass and harmonium, as well as an instrumental composition by Tom Cullivan.
The title track starts with circling chords on finger-picked guitar and a repeated motif with cello and voice, ‘On his happy hard knee, I sit with softly stirred eyes, I had been crying earlier’. Quirke’s guitar sets the slow and steady tempo before the chorus builds: ‘Her head is so much darker, So much darker than mine. She suits your taste, of humour’. The cryptic lyrics appear to tell a tale of unrequited love and jealousy, setting the melancholy mood.
‘Libra’ follows, and in a similar vein, we hear a story of love, lust and uncertainty – ‘trying to keep the balance between freedom and loneliness. Trying to keep the balance, between love and lust’. As Quirke calls to a higher power for guidance, melodies interweave on cello and vocals, with the words ‘Give me an answer, Astronomical folly. Show me a way, Be it fickle and false. I just don’t want to make a decision’.
The dense and contemplative subject matter continues with ‘House of Cards’, a whirling, up-tempo track featuring prominent double bass carrying the momentum. Percussion and a line on harp enter and Quirke proclaims ‘God forbid you slam a door in anger’, evoking a sense of acrimony, almost spitting the words as she sings.
Closing track ‘Jacket in the Sun / The Bard of Stroane’ is a song of two parts. The first part features Quirke singing a sorrowful folk song, with simple guitar and harp accompaniment. The second, a jig-like melody, was composed by Tom Cullivan and is completely instrumental, following on from the melody of the first part, allowing them to blend seamlessly. Cello and harp rise and fall, circulating and repeating notes, highlighting the beautiful and soft raspy sound of the cello playing the traditional-style melody.
Oil and Water is a clear progression for Lemoncello, in terms of instrumentation, prominent use of cello, and more pensive songwriting material. While Stuck Upon the Staircase also dealt with themes of love and nature, it painted a rose-tinted view with lines like ‘Life is sweet’ and ‘I’d run my fingers through your hair, and you’d cradle me’. Oil and Water, with lyrics such as ‘Pain is the medicine, but I am a child afraid to swallow’, is the moody older sister of its predecessor. Serious, foreboding, and a bit more grown up.
To purchase Oil and Water, visit lemoncello.bandcamp.com/album/oil-and-water
Published on 7 May 2020
Shannon McNamee is assistant editor of the Journal of Music.