by Bobby Cardos (@bobbycardos)
As the title for Painted Zeros’ debut record, Floriography works excellently as an analogy for making and releasing music. Also called the language of flowers, floriography was popular during the Victorian era. People would send one another specific floral arrangements that were infused with meanings that could be decoded using a reference book, allowing the senders to express feelings that were considered inappropriate in Victorian society.
The follow up to the 2014 EP Svalbard, Floriography is the result of several years’ songwriting effort. As with Svalbard, all songs were written, performed and recorded by principle member Katie Lau. She expertly gives the instruments their own personalities within the songs, even as the layers and textures pile on. This, combined with the seamless transitions between tracks, makes Floriography feel like a rolling ocean with buoys throughout it to anchor the listener and help navigate the seascape she has created.
The album opens with the wall-of-sound “Flatline” and both lyrically and musically suggests itself as the catalyst for what is to follow: “Your eyes look so bored, but I remember how they used to look before.” It segues perfectly into “Only You,” an airy song held together by a melodic bass line. It recalls either a memory or dream of an idyllic young love, but then goes into the highly danceable “Call Back,” which begins to look on with resignation: “For now, I'll wait until I get the call back. And if you don't, oh well.“ Given the seamlessness of the record, the diversity between songs is impressive, with Lau just as capable of ripping through the aggressive garage punk of songs like “Palm Tree” and “JMZ” as she is of playing the crooning Americana of “Spring.” And the slacker interjection in the bridge of “Leave Me Be (Not Me) is spot on.
An inverse situation to that of the Victorian era, the sentiments explored in Floriography are not inappropriate or even exceptional. The struggles of a twenty-something trying to figure out who she is, exacerbated by heartbreak and recurring sense of alienation from the city she lives in and the social circles she occupies are nothing new. But what is impressive is Floriography’s candor and breadth in exploring these struggles in all their different emotional iterations: anhedonia, bitterness, fragility, sadness and, in rare moments, content. Though the songs and recordings are precisely crafted, there is also a palpability and immediacy that makes them relatable and evocative. And in the language of music, that is one of the best things an album can do.