Album Review: Florist – Florist

[Double Double Whammy; 2022]

Florist‘s new and self-titled LP, recorded in a rented house in New York’s Hudson Valley, integrates Emily Sprague’s resonant vocals, eloquent songwriting, and ambient leanings, while spotlighting the four-piece’s gift for subtle adornments, offering a sequence at once melodically lush, lyrically vivid, and texturally hypnotic.

Instrumental opener “June 9th Nighttime” sets the album’s tone, blending synthy notes and what sound like nocturnal bird sounds. Ambient tracks are strategically placed throughout the set, serving as interludes and recalling Sprague’s solo instrumental ventures, 2017’s Water Memory and 2018’s Mount Vision. Highlights include “Variation”, replete with chimes and muted trumpet notes; “Bells Pt.” showcasing trebly tintinnabulations wrapped in crunchy synths; the more orchestral “Reprise”; and closer “Jonnie on the Porch,” which commingles brass, synth, and nature-based sounds, reminiscent of Sofie Birch’s Holotropica.

While the ambient tracks add sonic range to the set, what stand out are Sprague’s vocals and impeccably forged lyrics as well as the tracks’ hushed and hazy atmospherics. “Red Bird Pt. 2 (Morning)” conjoins soft acoustic and slightly distorted electric guitars, splashes of phase-shifted accents, and Sprague’s implosive yet crystalline vocal. Throughout the song, Sprague declares appreciation for her father (“I’ve seen photos of the living room, we didn’t have a lot / and the house needed some work done / so you did it all yourself”), elaborating on the cogent grief revealed on 2019’s Emily Alone, which Sprague wrote and recorded following the 2017 death of her mother. 

With “Spring in Hours”, the band fuse casual drumbeats and background acoustic timbres, bringing to mind Florist’s sibling band Big Thief and Sprague’s aesthetic soul-sister, Adrianne Lenker. When Sprague sings, “I’m a dream, I’m a fraction / I’m somewhere between the near and the far of the butterfly’s wing,” she, like Lenker, illustrates a knack for abstract lyrics that are also viscerally stirring (and cerebrally provocative).

“43” similarly incorporates campfire beats and acoustic strums. “I wished for aliens to come in and study my body,” Sprague sings, transforming a potentially banal sci-fi musing into a romantic manifesto, a riveting account of restlessness, desire, and the yearning to transcend the limitations of the body. The song ends with a steamy guitar solo and rhythmic jam that bring to mind the psychedelic sprawls of Goat, Cotton Jones, or the John Dwyer-led Thee Oh Sees.

“Energy, you comfort me / when I don’t know where you come from,” Sprague sings on “Two Ways”, pronouncing gratitude for her own resilience in the face of a setback. On “Organ’s Drone”, meanwhile, Sprague obliquely addresses a break-up. As the song unfolds, she attempts to embolden herself, moaning, “I know that I am strong.” She concludes, however, by urgently repeating “do not say goodbye” multiple times. The tension between Sprague’s anxiety and determination to cultivate acceptance is palpable.

On “Dandelion”, Sprague evokes a beguiling ambivalence via slight modifications in her delivery, occurring as equally fragile and confident, wistful and cautiously optimistic. “Feathers” pairs a summery melody and sublime descriptions of “places we can’t access” and “creatures… beyond our depth,” Sprague crafting a tune that could be as much about relational closure as a fresh union, about embracing the inevitability of death as participating in the limitlessness of life. 

Florist’s latest project stands as the culmination of previous collaborative and solo work, featuring the band as a whole at their most minimally precise; and Sprague, in terms of songwriting, vocal performances, and composition, at her most versatile and visionary.