It’s been just under a decade since Florist began recording and releasing their minimalist folk-pop, a style the band made their own by pairing it with otherworldly electronics and the often poignant, always philosophical lyrics and vocals of Emily Sprague. The Brooklyn indie quartet’s latest full-length is a self-titled nineteen-song collection that comes three years after Emily Alone, an aptly named album that consisted mostly of songs performed solely by Sprague accompanied only by an acoustic guitar. The new record finds the group returning to a methodology more akin to their earlier LPs in that the songs here are collaborative with the results being stunningly beautiful.
Florist reportedly recorded all these songs on a screened-in porch in June. As such, wildlife and the sounds of nature can be heard throughout. After setting the scene with the gently woozy “June 9th Nighttime”, an instrumental track consisting of a swaying chord progression complete with the sound of crickets, “Red Bird Pt 2 (Morning)” begins. Over a gently plucked acoustic guitar and oddly warped bleeps and bloops, Sprague sings the story of her birth. “I can only think about that day and what it meant, when the doctor came out and said, ‘you have a daughter now.’” Sprague’s choice of perspective and the happiness expressed herein feels at once heartwarming and familiar.
The six minute “Spring in Hours” opens with a ghostly brass section joined by backward oohs and ahhs before a simple beat and a lovingly played guitar start up. An anomaly in the band’s oeuvre, the song may be the quickest, tempo-wise, Florist has ever recorded. The horns return halfway in and work surprisingly well. “I’m a dream, I’m a fraction, I’m somewhere between, the near and the far of the butterfly’s wing,” Sprague sings, her vocals coming as close to soaring as whispered vocals can. The first third of the album is concluded with “Two Ways”, a folky number that has Sprague accompanied by one of her male bandmates providing backing vocals.
The longer songs on the record are often bookended by short instrumental pieces that are sometimes ambiguously experimental in approach (“Duet for 2 Eyes”, “Bells Pt 2”, “Bells Pt 3”) or are used as a reset for the listener’s ears (“Variation”, “Reprise”). At the start of “Organ’s Drone”, a voice assumed to be Sprague’s can be heard saying, “It’s pretty cool.” The smile on her face is discernible, and it’s clear she and the band are happy in their work.
“43” opens the record’s second side, and it’s here when, if not for the lyrics about wishing for aliens to come through the window and study Sprague’s body, Florist conjures something that might fool a classic rock radio aficionado into thinking they were hearing a lost deep cut from an overlooked singer-songwriter of decades past. Three and a half minutes into “43”, a lead guitar slowly works into what amounts to a wild solo. The rhythm section follows, building to a crescendo before bringing the song in for a gentle landing in the final minute. It’s a moment that might have been considered out of character for Florist if it wasn’t pulled off with such stunningly intuitive instrumental aplomb.
“River’s Bed” introduces the album’s final third. The chords here are thoughtful, and Sprague’s lyrics, although melancholic, are delivered with confidence. The brass section returns in the song’s final two minutes, bolstering the vocalist’s existential pronouncements. “Sci-fi Silence” follows immediately after “River’s Bed” and manages to make for a welcome neighbor in the sequence. At over six and a half minutes, “Sci-fi Silence” is not only the album’s longest song, but it’s also one of the strongest. After about ninety seconds of sonic idiosyncrasies delivered in the form of endearingly quirky synths, chimes, and a warped piano, Emily opens with the lines, “You’re the only thing inside I can’t follow through the night, you’re the only thing I want that I can’t find.” The lyrics throughout “Sci-fi Silence”, although sometimes cryptic in nature, are often intensely personal. The weird electronics and seemingly arbitrarily pecked piano notes return just before backing vocals enter and help reinforce Sprague’s repeated final lines, “Come, you’re not what I have, but what I love.”
A low, swelling string section is heard during the first minute of “Dandelion”. The lo-fi airiness is used to great effect here, humbling the richness of the extravagant-sounding instrumentation so it doesn’t feel out of place. Sprague’s vocals are at their most fragile, her voice at times ending a phrase in breathy nothingness. “Where does death leave its eyes in our lives? Why does light show us life when we look at the sky?” she asks. The acoustic guitar accompaniment is at its most shamelessly natural, the squeak of fingers moving over the strings from one fret to the next is audible while bubbling synths and a slide guitar blow through intermittently.
The slide guitar returns during “Feathers”, helping to create a moment that manages to be homey and welcoming without reducing the track to country cosplay. This penultimate song will include Sprague’s last lyrics, concluding with the words, “So what do you think, should we just be here on the land, listening to the sounds of life around us pass, careful not to tread on anything needing rest?“ The instrumental “Jonnie on the Porch” ends the album in a way similar to which it began, except the crickets at the record’s outset have been replaced by a low tone running just underneath twinkling electronics and a hastily played trumpet.
Ten years and four studio albums into their career, Florist have created the eponymous full-length many bands strive to, yet few rarely do. The thoughts and emotions conveyed both lyrically and vocally by Emily Sprague during every moment of this record are always poetic and sincere and never contrived or pretentious. Sprague’s bandmates: Rick Spataro, Jonnie Baker, and Felix Walworth, are all deserving of equally positive recognition, as their instrumentation and musicianship never falls out of sync with the mood from track to track, and each member’s contributions can be heard at key moments in the sequence. Florist’s self-titled album is a triumph. If you’re a fan of indie folk, don’t sleep on this one.