By Ted Davis
If you follow underground rock music, there’s a good chance that you have at least heard the name Palberta. For 10 years, the New York City band worked hard to carve a niche for themselves in the indie scene, touting an angular, sludgy sound that falls somewhere between The Raincoats and Palm. At its front is Lily Konigsberg, a quirky songwriter whose energy and charisma carry the act’s distinctive attitude. Palberta’s work is minimal and lo-fi, but Konigsberg’s wonky musicianship and spunky vocals helped make them one of the most prolific and playfully bizarre outfits to emerge from the Northeast’s thriving punk circuit.
Although Konigsberg has stayed busy making records and touring with Palberta, she carved out time on the side to write solo material. Where her work with the band is sweaty and freewheeling, her solitary output is sunnier and more outwardly cheeky. Drawing from early 2000s radio pop, Konigsberg’s solo debut, Lily We Need to Talk Now, is a surprising departure. Citing childhood favorites like Michelle Branch, Avril Lavigne, and Liz Phair as key touchstones for the record, many of the perky tracks return to mind long-lost cuts from the soundtracks to movies like 10 Things I Hate About You or 13 Going on 30.
“I loved good-quality pop,” Konigsberg told MTV News over Zoom, reflecting on her favorite music from when she was younger. “I loved those rom-com songs that would come in at the end of the movie and you’d associate that song with the movie and you’d know all the lyrics.”
But while Konigsberg was listening to bubbly, nostalgic singles while writing Lily We Need to Talk Now, out today (October 29), she wasn’t quite able to eschew the darkness in her life. Conceived in the throes of relationship turmoil, as she simultaneously battled an addiction she’s since kicked, the record’s sonic optimism belies an intensity lurking beneath. “I went through a breakup during COVID, or it was expedited by COVID,” she said. “There were a lot of songs that were a different aspect of the grief and the anger and the sadness and blaming yourself.”
The mall-pop, acoustic guitar-driven “Sweat Forever” is written in a nonsensical style that captures the gravity of Konigsberg’s mental turbulence. With lyrics like, “I was right / The last time that I saw you / Said goodbye / Knowing it would be forever,” the track juxtaposes the DayGlo elation of its instrumental with depressed musings. “I’m just a little too much of an oddball to write a perfect early 2000s pop gem, but I’m still really influenced by it, and you can tell that,” Konigsberg said.
Produced by Water From Your Eyes multi-instrumentalist Nate Amos, the album came to life after the two decided to record “Sweat Forever” at his house together. Amos took the reins, shaping the songs on Lily We Need to Talk Now as the two also played together in the duo My Idea. While they worked closely over the pandemic, they wrote over 50 songs in the course of just a few months. You can hear the push and pull of their partnership in Konigsberg's solo work, grounded in her straightforward rock songwriting yet toying with Amos's whimsical electronic experimentation.
“We just found a musical partner that was equal in their pop sensibility,” Konigsberg said, describing their unique creative chemistry. "We were a once-in-a-lifetime musical partnership. We had to do it."
Amos, a lifelong bluegrass player with a penchant for warm psychedelia, stepped outside of his sonic comfort zone behind the boards. “Don’t Be Lazy With Me” centers on washes of organic ambience, driven by pianos, synths, and horns. “Alone” is syncopated and dancey, and feels a bit like the work of an early 2010s PBR&B artist. Meanwhile, “Hark” is stripped back and shuffling, with just a wink of outlaw attitude. Like every Konigsberg endeavor to date, there’s something unplaceable about the album, even though it evokes a specific era.
Lily We Need to Talk Now isn’t all cheery instrumentals and spirited melodies, though. “True” dabbles in chaotic post-punk and surf rock. “Bad Boy”’s chunky, churning instrumental brings to mind the exciting early years of Palberta. Meanwhile, “Proud Home” is a downright ripper, with its ’90s-indebted riffing and motorik groove. “I’m not a painfully depressed person, but I feel like a pretty complex person,” Konigsberg said. “Not to say that everyone isn’t complex. I think everyone is. But I have a lot of darkness in me, and I also have a lot of light in me.” You can hear this duality when listening to the record in full. At times, it’s inviting and chipper. At others, it’s severe, even stoic.
“Addicts don’t really know when they’re addicts sometimes, like, how that’s affecting their writing or anything like that,” she continues. “I’m sure being at the peak of my addiction was an influence.”
The release of Lily We Need to Talk Now coincides with a turning point for Konigsberg. After a decade of playing shows with Palberta, the band decided to take an indefinite hiatus. “We’re gonna take a break because, honestly, it’s really hard to be in so many projects,” she said. “You really can’t grow enough in each one while you’re doing so much.” Although Konigsberg insists they’ll be back, Lily We Need to Talk Now heralds a new phase in her career where she’ll be focusing on performing her solo work and writing for My Idea. As she leaves bad habits in the rearview and puts these emotionally heavy songs out into the world, Konigsberg’s new concoctions may embrace a new tone.
“For my next album, the influence will really be my friends and love and being grateful,” Konigsberg said, musing about how she thinks brighter times might shape her upcoming music. Lily We Need to Talk Now plays like the work of someone trying to recapture the spirit of youth. When listened to closely, though, it’s more adult. As Konigsberg heals in tandem with the world around her, it seems as if her mindset might finally mirror her newfound aesthetic disposition.