Jul 02, 2021
By Caleb Campbell
The title of Squirrel Flower’s debut record, I Was Born Swimming, pays reference to her troubled birth, coming out of the womb floating in amniotic fluid. Where her debut record represented a birth, a songwriter in constant movement as she finds her place in the world, the sophomore effort from singer/songwriter Ella Williams is instead a rebirth in fire. Taking her vision to a planetary scale, Williams penned a self-described “love letter to disaster” with Planet (i).
The title purportedly refers to the next planet humanity will stake their claim to and, most likely, once again destroy. Fittingly, destruction runs replete across the record. “Deluge In The South” finds Williams “stuck in chiffon shining,” looking over a flooded landscape, while “Big Beast” launches the listener directly into the path of the storm with its wild apocalyptic climax. Yet Williams’ disasters are not always on such biblical scales. In “Hurt a Fly” Williams places herself in the shoes of a gaslighting narcissist, tearing down those around them and then insisting, “You know I could never hurt a fly/Unless it wasted my time.”
Williams does not only survey destruction though; she celebrates and welcomes it. She stands on the roof welcoming the arid winds of a tornado on “Desert Wildflowers” and she begs to live alone and unseen on “To Be Forgotten.” Most notably, the opener itself welcomes destruction. “I’ll Go Running” begins in a burst of anger, yet ends not in despair, but triumph. Williams finds her rebirth in the fires of disaster as she insists “I’ll be newer than before/I’ll be something you’ve never seen.”
Fittingly, Williams does sound newer than before on her sophomore record. From the beginning, the album’s singles seemingly paved the way for a slightly more defined sound for Williams on Planet (i). The floating and celestial construction of her debut gives way to more dusty and earthen moments, as dense and distorted indie rock populates the album’s instant standouts. Buzzing guitars lead into an explosive climax on “I’ll Go Running,” while wiry guitar solos on “Hurt a Fly” and “Flames and Flat Tires” punctuate the album with moments of high drama.
However, as with I Was Born Swimming, Williams’ music once again excels in the small details. Texture and atmosphere rule her world more than earworm hooks. Outside of the moments of gnarled solos and the occasional scuzzy distortion, Williams invites your attention more than demands it. But when that attention is given, new depths to her songwriting reveal themselves. Williams’ graceful poeticism carries dense and wordy tracks such as “Pass” or the plaintive and sparse “Desert Wildflowers,” offering respite from the album’s arid apocalyptic soundscapes with welcoming intimacy.
Especially in these stark moments, Williams’ strengths as a performer prove to be the undeniable centerpiece of the record. Her powerhouse voice ascends to show stopping heights on the grungy centerpiece “Roadkill” and explores into hushed and ethereal territory with the closer, “Starshine.” Invariably, Williams is magnetic from the opening moments to the end. As she sings on “Iowa 146,” when she plays guitar, everything falls away. She immerses you into stories of disaster, nostalgic reveries, stolen moments of joy, and the fiery pain of rebirth. Until the record ends, you’re on Ella William’s planet now. (www.squirrelflower.net)
Author rating: 8/10
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