by Jonathan Nasrallah (@jon_naz)
Over the last few years, Brooklyn’s Epoch Collective have seen growing influence in the Brooklyn DIY scene, alongside a growing national audience. Championed by NPR, Pitchfork and other online outlets, the more or less “indie rock” collective distinguish themselves with their straightforward earnestness, and their strong collaborative streak. Although Eskimeaux (which shares members with Sharpless, Told Slant, Bellows and Florist) has seen the largest audience of any Epoch band to date, it seems as if the collective as a whole is in a hot streak that won’t end any time soon. Splitting the difference between lo-fi bedroom pop and full band indie-folk, Florist’s debut full length album The Birds Outside Sang continues on the Epoch’s general path towards increasing accessibility and larger audiences.
Florist is primarily the project of Emily Sprague, but she’s backed here by Felix Walworth, Jonnie Baker and Rick Spataro. For a Brooklyn based collective, many of the Epoch’s members have a surprisingly naturalist bent, leaning heavily on imagery of mountains and lakes and of course The Birds Outside Sang is no exception. Despite the legions of insincere indie-folk bands producing empty odes to nature, Epoch members also seem to keep the imagery fresh, and Emily in particular often juxtaposes the larger world with the frailty of the human body.
Lyrics like “my bones are the branches that re-grow in the springtime” from “Rings Grow” have a detached, dreamlike quality to them upon first listen. Upon digging into the album’s (and Emily’s) personal narrative however, these previously esoteric lyrics turn out to be strikingly auto-biographical. The album was recorded in the aftermath of a severe bicycle accident that temporarily left Emily unable to use her left arm. This accident affected her songwriting on an emotional level, but also a physical level. Several of the songs on the album were written before she could play a guitar again after the accident.
The end result is an album showing two very distinct sides of Florist. The first half of the album is occupied by lo-fi tracks written by Emily without her backing band. These tracks generally revolve around sparse, minimalist keyboard leads, with some songs bordering on chilly drones. Even the vocals feel frail on the first half of the album, with lyrics focusing primarily the aftermath of Emily’s bicycle accident. Although perhaps sonically less compelling, the album’s most lyrically poignant moments often occur in this half of the album.
At once gracious and melancholic, “Thank You” features a near meditative monologue in which Emily displays gratitude for her returning health, alongside an overwhelming awareness of her own mortality. “The Birds Outside Sang” follows, beginning with the album’s most confident songwriting betraying the desperation and anxiety inherent in any serious healing process. Eventually the track dissolves into a warm, celebratory refrain of “do you and your friends wanna come into the field and watch the fireworks shoot up into the air?“.
After the mid-section peak of “Thank You” and the title track, the second half of the album features much warmer songs with folky full band arrangements. With broader melodic ranges and warm sing-a-long moments, it’s clear that these folk-leaning songs occupy the band’s sonic comfort zone. Although bittersweet undertones continue throughout the album, the second half’s lyrical content is much less insular, focusing on romance and friendship.
As The Birds Outside Sang blossoms into increasingly accessible full band territory, I can’t help but impose The Epoch collective’s general trajectory onto the movement of the album. As we’ve seen with the career’s of Bellows, Eskimeaux and Told Slant over time, Emily’s song-writing style began as intimate, yet lonely voice able to reach an expanded audience through collaboration. As Emily’s song-writing continues its outward turn towards the world, I’m sure larger audiences will take notice.