You’d think pop writers would be out of new hooks and topics to write about by now. Mostly you’d be right, but Alex Lilly will have none of that. As the brains behind the Los Angeles-based ensemble Obi Best, Lilly tends to a pop topiary garden, pruning melodies, watering the arrangements and planting new lyrical ideas ‘til each song radiates its own particular quirkiness.
Obi Best shares an affection for analog synths and ’60s chanteusery with the Bird and the Bee, with whom Lilly tours as a backup singer, and yet the band’s digital release, Capades, brings its Bacharach-isms and girl-groupiness past the sugary homage stage. The album is clever without resorting to irony, smart without a hint of pretension, and swooningly pretty in the least obvious of ways.
Capades does wonders with the ol’ box of chocolates approach. There are fresh takes on age-old themes of love and jealousy and nostalgia here, with music and lyrics working together to get across Lilly’s imagery. She sings “Love is blind and hallucinates too/ Blooming baby faces circle around you” in “Who Loves You Now,” and we feel her ambivalence in the angelic keyboard glosses and lethargic beat that surround her.
Elsewhere, Capades has the specificity of a showtune: “It’s Because of People Like You” is all about finding a pissy note on your car, while “Origami” imagines a pair of trans-Pacific lovers that can only communicate via paper cranes and frogs. Lilly’s bell-clear alto wraps around girlish desperation and womanly resolve like it’s all part of the same life experience.
Obi Best’s songs are tautly constructed enough to stand on their own — good luck removing “Nothing Can Come Between Us” and “Swedish Boy” from shower-singing rotation — but the pianos, guitars, synths and strings that cushion Capades vivify Obi Best’s singular sound world and become just as important as Lilly’s inventive melodies. On the mesmerizing “Blooms Like Flowers,” Lilly embroiders poetic insight (“For me, life is just math and we’re figures on a map…we try to walk tall/ But for you, time blooms like flowers/ Life moves beyond the hours”) into a song of breathtaking sophistication.
Even if she didn’t mean it this way, Lilly is the “you” in that lyric, a songwriter and musical conceptualist who can convey everyday experiences in dimensions of sound and color apparent to nobody but her. On Capades, she’s sitting cross-legged in a polka-dot dress at the center of a lush forest of imagination, singing for the squirrels and canaries that alight on her outstretched arms. For 41 minutes, we get to see things the way she does.