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LILAC SUN: "SHADOW" | Album Review

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with emotion in the past few weeks since the presidential inauguration. For some of us, however, completely surrendering to our feelings can be difficult — there are tasks to do, phone calls to make, bills to pay. Occasionally, we need a wake-up call to remind us that our feelings still have merit, and Lilac Sun’s new album Shadow provides the perfect solution.

Released on Bandcamp in January, Shadow is the band’s first full-length album. Its seven expertly-crafted songs, beginning with “Life” and ending with “Death,” take us on an intimate journey through what it means to be human and connect with one another. Nothing embodies this message more than on “Life,” when Etha Wilso croons, “Life’s not losing / Life is letting go of all of your fear.” Layered multiple times over, his slow and dreamy voice forms a cocoon around the listener, protecting us from harm but also granting us the freedom to open up and venture into the world as something bigger than we might believe ourselves to be.

Wilso approaches each song on Shadow with an intense vulnerability and openness — the second we tune into the album, we feel as though we have known the tunes our entire lives. There’s a rawness to the lyrics that is both melancholy and comforting, challenging our conceptions of emotions as individual units, not blended experiences. In “Fall in Love,” Wilso navigates between more sweet, sentimental lyrics like “My love writes poetry with her body” and harsh and harder truths like “Jealousy is a beast / A monster made to mask all I can see / This feeling’s breaking me.” The steady drumbeat in the background sounds like a heart in motion, reminding us of the excitement and terror in learning to love another human.

In “Survive,” he moves from questioning what the bleak future brings (“Will the love survive?”) to assuring the listener that everything will be okay (“Unite the people with love in mind / We will all survive”). Navigating between fear and joy, unsettlement and hope, Shadow proves that to be human is to be multifaceted. Life is not about tying up neat bows and filing away our feelings into a box. It is about asking questions, pushing limits, and experimenting with the many sides of our emotions.

The songs “Midnight” and “Storybook” best speak to our freedom and agency to craft our own experiences. “Our story begins at 12 a.m.,” “Midnight” begins. What follows is somewhat like the “San Junipero” episode of Black Mirror — a somewhat surreal journey with an expiration date to come. “Our story will end when the sun expands, frying fortune oblivion / Hold my hand to smithereens, waiting for the dawn to speak,” Wilso sings. Listening to “Midnight,” we are reminded that life is short and time will always run on speed ahead. We may not have many days on earth, but “Midnight” reminds us that we can still make them count.

“Storybook” is more sing-songy than the other songs on the album, sounding somewhat like a more folksy, bedroom pop version of the Beatles’ album Srgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Its beginning starts in a somewhat benign fashion, commenting on how our friends form the stories of our lives, before moving to a more unsettling chorus: “Life is just a storybook / With an unideal ending / You live to write your storybook / But all of us die just the same.” Jarring in its lyrics but strangely warm in its even-paced tune, “Storybook” prompts us to contemplate how we can still find meanings and craft memories when the clock is ticking.

Like its namesake, Shadow is ultimately a darker type of experience, prompting big questions about mortality, pain, and passion. Its songs encapsulate a unique mixture between melancholy pop and the slow, jangling sounds of indie folk. “Life” also sounds a bit like a sad tune Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys might hum on a rainy day, while “Death” embodies pop-punk more than the other slower songs on the album. Overall, the latest release from this Harrisonburg, Virginia band has something for everyone, every occasion, and every mood. It’s a release that’s not to be missed.

Check out more from Lilac Sun here.

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