The siblings blessing Brighton with blissed out guitar pop – Review: Penelope Isles
If you’re anything like me, every week or two a song will take over your brain. It haunts your showers, car trips and fellow commuters (if you, too, prefer your music loud). Then, every once in a blue moon, you’ll click their Spotify artist link, give the rest of their discography a listen and realise you’ve booked the music section of your brain out for the rest of the year. The most recent artist to check into mine for good? Brighton’s own Penelope Isles.
Despite what their name might suggest, Penelope Isles is the moniker under which two siblings, Jack and Lily Wolter, create and perform. Growing up in the Isle of Man, their parents gave them a thorough musical education, with ‘cello lessons, saxophone lessons, singing lessons, piano lessons, drum lessons and bass lessons’. Despite creating music since 2006, it was when 22-year-old Jack returned home that the duo started working together. As Jack puts it, ‘I came back to the Isle of Man from living in England and I was like “I need a bass player” and taught Lily how to play bass’. It wasn’t long before then-16-year-old Lily and Jack made a home for themselves in Brighton, got signed with Bella Union, and released their debut album ‘Until the Tide Creeps in’.
Now often joined by extra members, Henry Nicholson (bass) and Joe Taylor (drums), Penelope Isles have become an unstoppable force in the indie-psyche world. Completing over 100 shows in 2019 was, incredibly, just the start of their accomplishments. They’ve since toured with Bright Eyes and Wallows, played most of the UK festival circuit and are currently finishing up the last leg of their international summer tour (tickets for their next show, which is handily a homecoming performance in Brighton, are still available here).
As for their impressively addictive music, the combination of Lily’s eerily beautiful vocals and Jack’s jammy guitar riffs cements Penelope Isles as a marvel of genre mixing, especially in their sophomore album ‘Which Way to Happy’. Part of the shimmery resurgence of 80s and 90’s alt-rock, where the band slips into shoegaze territory with tracks ‘Iced Gems’ and ‘Sailing Still’ they are ethereal to say the least. Other tracks offer up more straightforward crashing indie fun, track ‘Terrified’ featuring an impressively ear-wormy hook and a danceable psyche-rock tempo.
Their music videos ride a similar line between hauntingly elegant and light hearted. Ranging from double-time clown makeovers to neon edits of an inflatable gimp suited figure dancing around Brighton’s lanes, Penelope Isles are clearly having fun with it. Even the heart-breaking ballad ‘Iced gems’ isn’t left to rot in melancholy boredom. It instead oozes vaporwave surrealness, right down to its flash animated dolphins and watery surroundings.
All that to say, it’s obvious to me that Penelope Isles are one that we should be keeping a firm eye on going forward. Their ability to create poignant moments and simultaneously craft some of the catchiest guitar pop of the last few years second-to-none. So, if you’re looking for a new music addition, I recommend you stop your search here.
Words by Kate Bowie