Lily on Horn Horse, the first record from Lily Konigsberg and Matt Norman, was the work of separate entities hitchhiking across distorted alien worlds. While the collaboration showcased a unique harmonic empathy between the two, it felt indeed like a series of features—sonic graffiti splashed across sturdy architecture. Lily and Matt were like two interdimensional weirdos making first contact and crafting a rough pidgin language that, as it turns out, only hinted at the sophistication lurking beneath the surface.
Now, arriving only a few months later, Next To Me skips several evolutionary stages, fusing the duo so perfectly that they speak with one tongue and one mind. That pesky “and” between their names feels superfluous; when they sing in unison over butterfly synthesizers and warm brass on “I’m 25,” you can hardly tell where one artist ends and the other begins. Over a blisteringly paced 24 minutes, Lily and Horn Horse conjure up a funhouse of endlessly shifting perspectives.
With 19 tracks to get through in such a short span of time (and only two that crack the two-minute barrier), it’s remarkable that none of them feel lacking in development. Rather than a sequence of vague sketches suggesting something greater, Next To Me is a gallery of impeccably painted miniature landscapes. Every detail—from the sweltering blips of tropical, steel-drum electronics in “Useless Room 1,” to the way the synth arpeggiations and shuffling drums interlock to create what can be best described as musical vertigo on “Staring at the Plants”—becomes a landmark, an anchor point from which you can step even further into their glitched-out minefield of a world.
In describing this album, Lily and Horn Horse challenged us to imagine what would happen if “'Baby One More Time…’-era Britney Spears and Bill Callahan made a record.” “Next To Me 1” hits that nail right on the head and drives it clean through the wall. Its sparkling vocal melody is pure saccharine overload, and the lyrics are golden-age bubblegum: “Listen to me beforehand, baby / If you want to get next to me,” enticingly repeated in between wonky smears of bass. “Next to Me 2” is the other side of the coin. Now, frenzied jazz keyboards chase Lily’s voice across the frame, stepping on her toes as she concludes the lyric from part one: “I know how it is now” rings out as the song crashes to a halt.
Contrasted with Lily’s viciously nimble delivery, Matt Norman’s turns on the mic have a gloomy quality that keeps the record from floating away. It nicely balances her sugar-high flights of fancy with sobering visions of discomfort. On “Scumbag’s Apprentice,” for example, his voice offers a grim self-psychoanalysis, wondering “I used to be the lucky one when I was young / Is that why I’m so dumb?” While this kind of darker detour comes on quickly, it departs before long, like a brief eclipse with just the right amount of shade.
As the final horn blasts on the closing track fade into the distance, those seconds of silence before the album officially ends feel like a gentle sigh of relief. It’s similar to the sweet exhaustion that sweeps through you after wearing yourself out at the gym. Finding your way out of the surrealist maze that Lily and Horn Horse have perfected on Next To Me is a full-body workout, so be sure to catch your breath along the way.