The fear of solitude is a very human condition, but as we traverse through life we often find that being alone is very much part of discovering who we are. Introspection is often inspired by the quiet of our surrounds. For folk artist/songwriter Emily Sprague, the quiet is where she found her latest inspiration, a beautiful collection of songs that finds her at her most subdued, but at her most affecting. Florist is the moniker of the indie-pop act Sprague performs in, having released two previous albums that featured a full band. Here on the third album, she finds herself alone. Along with just a guitar and a smattering of piano and atmospherics, Emily Alone is the result of Sprague sequestering herself in her Los Angeles confines to write, record, and produce the music you find here.
The echo of her voice atop gentle strings paints a minimalism to much of Emily Alone, resulting in a hypnotic resonance to the album that is both captivating and serene. The album was influenced by monumental life changes- personal upheavals that often spark a desire to find one’s self. If the questioning of life after a death in the family, a break-up, and a cross-country move were to be encapsulated in song, then it’s through tracks like the quiet, inquisitive melancholy of “As Alone”. In it, Sprague sings “And Emily, just know that you’re not as alone / As you feel in the dark, as you feel in the dark“, and as it repeats, you are left with the sense that Sprague herself understands and feels her vulnerability, and it shows in the music. At the same time, it is as though she feels a strange comfort in the growth that comes with it.
“Time Is A Dark Feeling” is beautiful reflection with its wispy vocals and floating guitar plucking, while there is a certain acceptance to “Ocean Arms”. As Sprague sings in the latter, “Shadow comes around sometimes / Tell me, sky, where does this day go?”, you can’t help but feel that she sings with an appreciation and comprehension of the inevitable. Speaking on musical grounds, these tracks come across the perfect balance between indie folk’s quiet meditation and the sometimes grandiose, almost sermon-like tone that you hear from the music of Devendra Banhart, Iron & Wine, and Bon Iver. Yet Emily Alone has this really welcoming, unpretentious note to it all. There’s a striking listenability to the album- that you can keep coming back to the songs- and that’s not always true about the music of say, Mark Kozelek, or the aforementioned Banhart.
The gorgeous piano-strewn “M” and the poetry reading-like “Celebration” are examples of how Sprague turns the simplicity of a musician and their instrument into storytelling. And it is one of the many reasons why there is so much to like on Emily Alone. It’s deeply personal, but inviting- and for an album that reflects so much on being alone and wrestling with solitude, it never once makes you feel lonely. The first words she sings on the album are “I could have words or I could have solitude“, as if we all have to decide whether we want one or the other. But as you listen to Emily Alone, it’s clear that we can have both.
Crossed Keys – Saviors
Saviors shows the work of well-seasoned musicians finding new energy in old sounds
Philadelphia’s Crossed Keys are an interesting intersection between melodic hardcore and punk, taking an earnest approach to the sound that made its way from the underground in the late 90s and early 2000s. This relatively new outfit is the result of Kid Dynamite and Samiam in a blender- in the best way possible. The Kid Dynamite influence may be a given since Crossed Eyes features KD’s drummer Dave Wagenschutz, but the band’s pedigree also includes members of bands like Zolof the Rock & Roll Destroyer and The Curse, all backing the melancholic vocal work of frontman Joshua Alvarez (Halo of Snakes). So while Crossed Keys are somewhat new, its members have been cutting their teeth within their respective circles for years, and their new EP Saviors shows the work of well-seasoned musicians finding new energy in old sounds.
Saviors is backboned by the furious urgency and energy that Kid Dynamite showed through their history, but while Jason Shevchuk’s vocals were beautifully abrasive, Alvarez takes a more restrained, wistful approach to singing. Songs like the opening “Times of Grace” are musically up-tempo percussions and razor-sharp guitars, but are buoyed by Alvarez’s more melodic vocals. His vocals rest at a good place between Samiam’s Jason Beebout and that NYHC tone exhibited by bands like Token Entry and Grey Area. In songs like “R.J.A” and the closing title track, Crossed Keys find more success with their brand of blistering speed meets harmony- slowing down only for the kind of melancholic punk that made Samiam a noted name. While much of Saviors is built on pace, it wasn’t always this way for the band. In fact, their 2017 EP, I’m Just Happy That You’re Here, leans closer to Samiam than it does to Kid Dynamite (the song “Jeff Pelly vs. The Empire” is particularly fantastic), so there’s been an uptick of urgency with Saviors.
For fans of any of the aforementioned bands here, there is plenty to like with Crossed Keys and plenty to like in Saviors. It’s succinct, to the point, but filled with ample reflection and exploration that gives the EP depth and resonance. Any band that has found influence from Kid Dynamite is most certainly OK by us (this site is named after a KD song after all), but Crossed Keys does more than just tip their cap. This one’s a really good one, and worth your time.
Pine – Pine
Pine’s debut album is a kind of hypnotic melancholia
Where did Ottawa’s Pine come from? It’s a question worth asking after listening to their painfully gorgeous self-titled debut album. Pine use the phrase “doom and gloom never sounded so sweet” to describe their sound, and true to that, this 11-track outing is filled with the kind of hypnotic melancholia that became the playbook for a great many Midwestern emo bands that emerged in the late 90s/early 2000s. The biggest difference here is that while Pine have the heartbreak down pat, their musical sense of loss is lifted slightly by the airy, more wistful sounds of their guitar-strewn songs. Sure, there’s a lot that sounds like a great Mineral record or a Gloria Record album, but there’s also traces of Florida indie/emo band The Rocking Horse Winner and at times, bands like Rainer Maria.
Pine are buoyed by the great vocal work of Darlene Deschamps. Her voice soars through tracks like “Memento” and the terrific “Lusk”. The latter in particular is a great example of how Pine lull you into a sense of calm before it explodes in a collage of symphonic distortion and post-rock twinkling. In “Sunder” they ascend to louder, more expansive sounds. The song is a great combination of thick, fuzzy guitars, mid-tempo percussion work, and that pained vocal delivery that gives the song an extra punch in the guts.
The album took an impressive 2 years to finish, and you can hear the trials and tribulations of that gestation period through the songs. There’s pain, sadness, anger and frustration in songs like the intro “Within You” and the more new emo-esque “Swollen”, but also beauty, and as the album concludes, a sense of incredible catharsis. The record SOUNDS great too, with production values (by a production team that includes Will Yip, who has helmed records by Circa Survive, Braid, Saosin, and the Bouncing Souls to name a few) adding to the grand cinematic finish of the record.
For those who love what emo was in the mid to late 90s will find much to like about Pine just as much as those who like Explosions in the Sky and their post-rock brethren. Pine have been crafting their sound over the last few years and while their previous EP Pillow Talk showed a solid foundation, this new self-titled record is the work of a band close to the height of their abilities. Moving, beautiful, and littered with life’s roller coaster of emotions as songs, Pine is definitely recommended listening.