Penelope Isles – ‘Which Way To Happy’ review: an album’s album from the Brighton siblings


In today’s playlist culture, where the consumption of music is more like a buffet than a sit-down meal – a little from over here, a little from over there, with no real need for big decisions or commitment – the second LP from Brighton’s Penelope Isles acknowledges the satisfaction available from the exact opposite.

The group, helmed by brother-sister linchpins Jack and Lily Wolter, are clearly invested in the concept of the album as an entity, which is nothing wildly revolutionary in itself (though the influx of ‘projects’/ mixtapes/ double EPs from relatively indie artists in recent years might argue). What makes ‘Which Way To Happy’ truly an album’s album, however, is the atmosphere it slowly unfurls over 11 tracks; though many of the offerings here are individually gorgeous, it’s when you submerge yourself in them for a full 45 minutes that the magic really happens.

With 2019 debut album ‘Until The Tide Creeps In’, Penelope Isles set out their blueprint of fuzz and melody. More indebted to the other side of the Atlantic than their own, theirs was a hard-to-pin-down combination that somehow nodded to Dinosaur Jr and The Magic Numbers at the same time. On its follow up, the band have kept that same duality – thanks in part to the innate prettiness that tends to come with sibling vocal harmonies – but this time they’ve gone in with even more dedication.

Opener ‘Terrified’ feels like a natural next step from its predecessor, Jack’s hazy vocal and the track’s xylophone-laced backing keeping things musically light beneath the lyrical fear, while ‘Rocking at the Bottom’ continues on, taking those hallmarks (sweet falsetto, chiming notes beneath the fog) and spinning them in more unexpected ways. Throughout the record, there’s the sort of clear sonic identity – whether on the more minimal, sparse ‘Iced Gems’, or ‘Sailing Still’, whose shoegaze tendencies you can imagine being deeply satisfying live – that will either leave people completely won over or nonplussed. When so many albums feel like a pick and mix of disparate ideas, it’s a devotion to an identity that’s commendable.

‘Miss Moon’ arrives as both centrepiece and highlight: a distillation of what Penelope Isles are about in just under five minutes, that’s both massive and subtle, beginning with crashing walls of noise before falling out into something idiosyncratic and sweet. If you REALLY don’t have an hour to spare then fine, just listen to this. But that would be far from the point.

Penelope Aisles – 'Which Way To Happy'