Lizzy Lehman is fearless, and she’s not afraid to call out the bullshit. “Tell me every time I’m wrong. I need to know when I’ve crossed the line,” she bristles with “B.S. (Nobody’s Perfect),” a spacey, synth-based cut on Carry Illinois’ forthcoming new EP, Work in Progress. On title alone, Lehman peels back the layers of her insecurities. She’s at her most vulnerable and honest across the five new tracks, and there is an overwhelming sense the listener is engaging with the band’s best work to-date. The dreamy but biting “Runaway” anchors the disc as lead single, cementing a somber, reflective tone as Lehman examines a history of self-loathing.
Where 2017’s Garage Sale EP saw the band ⎯⎯ rounded out by Andrew Pressman (bass), Benjamin Rowe Violet (keyboards) and Rudy Villarreal (drums) ⎯⎯ pick up the pieces after the tragic death of friend and original bassist John Winsor, Work in Progress feels like the next logical step. Here, Lehman bares her scars, her worries, her heart in tremendous, sometimes visceral, ways.
“It’s been two years now since he passed away. I’ve learned a lot since then about myself and how I deal with anxiety, depression and mental health,” she says, matter-of-factly. Her voice is heavy, but her heart is light. “I felt the urge to move forward. This EP is about moving forward and realizing life is a fragile thing. You have to take everything moment by moment, celebrate the successes, and learn from and move past the failures and painful experiences to grow stronger.”
Her voice is certainly stronger, richer and more determined than ever. On “Runaway,” she rips the mirror from the wall to get a better look at her reflection, raw nerve glistening through the metallic shimmer. “When did you first begin to hate your body and your heart?” she asks herself, spitting the question out like a venom-wielding cobra. The words sting and course through her veins, but they are crucial proclamations if she is ever going to learn to love herself. That theme is woven into the EP’s fabric, often leading her to strike monumental epiphanies about life’s fragility and her own self-worth.
“Some day, we’re going to see ourselves through,” she warbles with scorched opener “Scattered,” manifesting her rise out of brokenness into a healthier, cleaner and more liberated headspace. This song is “saying that we’re not broken people and not perfect ⎯⎯ and that’s OK,” she says. “There’s nothing wrong with that, because we’re all going to realize who we want to be.”
When Lehman stopped taking the medication first prescribed to her more than a decade ago, she was reborn as a golden butterfly, finally spreading her wings and reaching the apex of her potential. “I’ve been discovering this new person,” she beams, a smile lacing her lips and her eyes lighting up. That energy, that thirst and that fight for life is ever-present on the new record. “It’s learning to put away any self-doubt and self-hatred I’ve dealt with pretty much my whole life. I’ve really tapped into the things I love most about myself so that I can be a happier, more whole person,” she says.
She then began an expedition into what those emotions were below the surface and how they had kept her trapped in darkness. “I took a scan of myself, mentally and physically, and my friendships and relationships. I am a literal work in progress, and I’m learning to be OK with that,” she says. That striking belief is etched into the EP’s backbone, eerily moving along in the undercurrents while the band dances between genres, from dirt-strewn rock music to glossy pop moodiness.
Joined with producer Grant Johnson, the entire band uncovered a new dynamic, too, trading off producer duties for what Lehman stresses as a “truly collaborative” experience. While “Runaway” and “B.S. (Nobody’s Perfect)” are distinctly shadowboxing blues, rock and ‘80s glitter-pop, “Scattered” hits bruised alternative punches with invigorating precision. “Pushing Sound” is a tapestry of her bedside confessions, a smoldering love letter to her wife. Amidst a haunting wave of background vocals and tender guitar lines, she recommits herself to be “a better partner,” she reflects. “This song is definitely the most revealing about my intimate life.”
The heaviness of the Work in Progress EP is owed largely to Lehman’s soul-baring songwriting, drenched in her creamy alto and the band’s discerning, electric and altogether raw skillset. “It’s the most human and revealing set of songs that I’ve ever written. One of the things that I decided after John passed away is that I can’t waste time putting a mask on,” she admits, further confronting personal truths. “I have to be completely transparent and honest. That’s the only way I’m going to be able to process what I’m going through.”
It seems appropriate the record ends on the titular cut, which not only frames Lehman’s never-ending journey to self-realization but that of a former bandmate who quit just before a tour late 2017. Building upon previous ambitious musical styles, the song, which bursts at the seams and allows Lehman to weep mightily, depicts her relationship with the musician. “I believe he really is an incredible person, but he’s shrouded in his own self-doubt and being controlled by outside forces and not really tapping into his own power and confidence. I hope he continues to work through his own issues and mental health.”
“I’m a work in progress. Let’s get to it,” she wails in a hazy firestorm of percussion, keys and guitar, which tumble furiously around her. If anything, Lehman reminds the world that pain, as calamitous as it can be in the moment, is only temporary and what comes after is where the real treasures of life really lie.