Sprague’s music is the fragility of being, naked and searching.
Once you’ve achieved oneness with the universe, is there still a meaningful difference between the geographical and the psychological? Or do exterior space and interior feeling conjoin like two flowers from a single stem?
The latter seems a strong possibility for the world of Florist’s most recent album, Emily Alone. Its title references both the album’s structural set-up and lyrical content: lead vocalist Emily Sprague performs her own compositions by herself, and every song is about Sprague’s isolated condition. But her isolation is of a very elemental sort. “And if I lose my mind/ Please give it back to the earth/ Fire water wind/Earth fire water wind,” Sprague half-sings, half-mumble-chants on “Celebration.” (Earth, Wind & Fire wink received!) While such sentiments can sometimes be frustratingly unspecific, Sprague’s commitment to the world around her usefully provides blueprints for a holistic eco-embeddedness that accepts despair without glorifying it.
One of the album’s great strengths is that it veers off into surprisingly weird territory right at those moments when you think the proceedings are about to get a little too precious. “I Also Have Eyes,” which finds Sprague attempting to stir forth from lethargy, may be the strongest example of this. “Now it’s time to go/ Outside the house/ Say hello to someone,” she begins. The motivational sentiment and hushed delivery come across as quirky and marketable as a hand-painted plate on Etsy. But Sprague continues, “Look at their eyes/ I also have eyes/ Are the memories real?/ Did I live through that day?/ Did it happen to me?” Suddenly, the singer’s situation seems volatile, a cocktail of crippling anxiety and possessed memory.
We don’t ever find out the specifics of these memories or even the places that Sprague is leaving behind or moving towards. It’s difficult to think of an album with fewer proper nouns, beyond the occasional “Emily” or “Earth.” This is something of a departure for Florist, whose previous three LPs—perhaps all retrospectively titled Emily with Friends, since they featured a multi-member lineup—took on precise images and other points of reference: banisters through which to push one’s head, for example, or the feeling of wearing a dress to Sunday School. On Emily Alone everything is ocean, sky and the encroaching night, all profound and felt to the fleshiest root.
This lends the album a blank quality that’s matched by the repetitive strumming of Sprague’s guitar textures. Some of the songs consist altogether of assorted musings, while others eventually find a bit of melody to revive later on or repeat ad infinitum in the moment. She also gives listeners little glimmers of other instrumental beings, but their sounds are imperceptible shadows nearing light: tiny scratches, breaths, steps, electricity.
It doesn’t get much more minimalistic than this, and that’s the crux. Emily Alone represents, and forever approaches, the kind of anti-excessive ecological connectedness that would make Henry David Thoreau blush with envy. But the album has nothing to do with self-reliance or a lifestyle that’s worth preaching to the masses. Sprague’s music is instead the fragility of being, naked and searching. “There’s dark inside the stars that’s where I go/ And the spirit realm calls me in/ Whisper water from the shadow bloom,” she observes from imagined dusk.
Just a few weeks ago, Rvng Intl. re-released selections from Sprague’s ambient works that our own Daniel Bromfield positioned in a productive space between indie rock and new age. Emily Alone fixes itself to a similar spot, but its poetic lyrics further clarify that she holds no illusions about achieving perfection or channeling the lost spirits of other cultures. Instead, the new age becomes the time it takes to sit with only oneself, and indie rock is simply what happens while you sit there.