Editor’s note: A Daily staffer was briefly a student of Lily Talmers, but they were not involved in the creation, production or publication of this piece.
Metro Detroit native and U-M alum Lily Talmers feels deeply. You can’t help but think that she has a better understanding of things as they are — so much better than your own, that you find yourself hanging on to her every word, every breath. Rooted in ’60s folk music, Talmers’s music is lyrically confessional, sharing every shred of her heart with listeners. Her lyrics, including those in her newest singles, aren’t easy to pin down — they allow you to feel things for yourself rather than prescribing emotion, making the listening experience all the more tactile and impressive.
The song “My Mortal Wound” is eloquently poetic, waxing and waning around heartache and a distinct desire for belonging. “My Mortal Wound” is about feeling something, anything, in a desperate, human way — every emotion is breathtaking when you find yourself in Talmers’s capable hands. Every strike of her fingertips against guitar strings and every inflection placed on words feels deeply intentional, carrying a meaning that cannot be conveyed without them. She has listeners quietly waiting “For something to happen; for anything to happen; for good things to happen.” And for reasons unexplainable, the phrase “a bike with a basket” sung in a markedly Midwestern intonation holds enough emotional weight for the breath to catch in my throat upon each listen.
“My Friend, My Killer” is stripped bare, naked — simplicity is our suitor, enthralling listeners and pulling them in close. Haunting vocals are accompanied only by measured acoustic guitar, a swaying bass line accompanied by two brighter notes. Talmers sings, “For all that you are makes it clear that we two should not speak again” and “It’s unkind to call you my killer, so I call you my friend” — describing poignant heartbreak where your heart whimpers like a wounded animal, wide-eyed and panting, lamenting an open wound left by someone you loved.
“Best of Times” and “Birthday Song” are deceptively named. Rather than feeling the suggested lightness, we get lyrics that show us where we can “cry like a fully-formed adult” or be cradled in a memory. Talmers pleads, “If I’m unworthy Lord, I swear I’ll fake it” — bitter bile of rejection rising in the back of your throat, tongue forcing it down, catching on alabaster teeth. Building mood, setting, tension and release in fuzzy, faint shapes is the lyrical genius of Lily Talmers. Listeners understand everything without exact words — the story is made rather than told, allowing listeners of all kinds to feel it deeply.
In her writing, Talmers places listeners as a stitch in the quilt of everything, woven tightly, a dense fabric. You can’t help but feel connected to each of the experiences she so deftly shapes — each of us is offered a wholeness to exist in and an experience to share. Talmers gives us new heart feelings with each passing syllable, keeping listeners with hands outstretched, trying to catch every last drop.
Watch for her upcoming album My Mortal Wound on Dec. 15 and her performance at The Ark Jan. 8.
Daily Arts Writer Claire Sudol can be reached at email@example.com.