“Hey, you should listen to this album. They recorded the entire thing in a schoolhouse in upstate New York. It’s pretty emotional; made me cry yesterday.” I can see my friend’s eyes gloss over, thinking another indie-alt-rock-locally-sourced-hipster-snore-rock. Great. Of course, I can see the internal conversation going on, but he says, “Yeah, for sure man, I’ll check it out.”
Admittedly, the singer-songwriter/alt-rock genre that Florist exists within is crowded to the point of saturation. However, where other groups fade into the lo-fi fold, Florist stands out. The group describes themselves on their Bandcamp page as “a friendship project that was born in the Catskill Mountains.” The New York-based outfit—led by singer Emily Sprague—has a healthy catalogue of music dating from 2013, but their second studio album, “If Blue Could Be Happiness,” is on a new emotional plane compared to their past work.
On “If Blue Could Be Happiness,” Sprague is coming to terms with her mother’s death and her grief colors the project throughout. Sprague’s voice, along with well-placed guitar, combines to create poignant, ethereal songs. “Mom, I love you. I still hear your voice inside my sleep” is one example of the honesty Sprague commits to on the album.
Sprague’s vocals take me back to the first time I listened to “First Day of My Life” by Bright Eyes. It is open, emotional music and is paced perfectly for listeners to digest the lyrics as they unfold. More complex synths and sonic risks are rare; simple guitar and heartfelt lyrics are the album’s main ingredients. Sprague sticks to the same elegant delivery throughout the album and it’s a welcome move. Each song feels like it is communicating earnestly, knocking on your door with a handful of lilacs, and asking to be let in.
When the group commits to the lo-fi minimalism, the project thrives and manages to escape clichés. However, on the title track “If Blue Could Be Happiness,” they stray from their minimalist ethos and the song feels—if not emotionally—sonically out of place.
On the other hand, on the album’s fourth track, “The Fear of Losing This,” the sparse nature of the songs comes to stark relief as percussion is introduced into the soundscape. Sprague’s vocals are just as graceful on the track, but one can feel how bare the opening three tracks were when one new element— gentle drums—is introduced. Minimal percussion is also used to great effect on “Glowing Brightly.”
The exploration of death is mainly made through the metaphor of light; the belief in some sort of internal light or soul is present throughout. Sprague sings, “The next time you see me I’ll be glowing brightly.” Her mother’s internal light is a key concept of the album, and it is heartening to see that Sprague also sees that power within herself.
On the aptly-titled “Understanding Light,” Sprague sings, “There is no other color like the darkness in my life.” When there is absence of light, I feel the pain of Sprague’s quiet mourning. However, these darker moments are woven together with an aching message of hope: “Celebrate the mornings like the light would never come. Alone in a sea of what I truly know.” She follows with “I’m alive and I’m okay. The air is light blue today.” Sprague is burdened with pain, which was also a major theme of the group’s debut “The Birds Outside Sang.” This pain, translated through Sprague’s delicate voice, makes for a dynamic and engaging listen.
The human-ness at the center of “If Blue Could Be Happiness” makes this album significant. Sprague’s emotional range is vast, and her quiet, determined falsetto drives the project to profundity by examining small moments. “I’m not afraid of the things that make me feel something big,” Sprague sings on “Thank You Light.” The guitar strums for a moment and she returns with “Like looking at your eyes in the sun. Like looking at your eyes in the dark.”
Overall Score: Strong to Decent 8
Favorite Tracks: Eyes in the Sun, Thank You Light, Red Bird, Glowing Brightly
Least Favorite Tracks: If Blue Could Be Happiness
If You Enjoyed This Album: Conor Oberst – Ruminations; Mount Eerie – A Crow Looked at Me; Beach House – Bloom