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.
The Ritualists – Painted People
The Ritualists play some determined, strong-willed music
After listening to Painted People by The Ritualists, I was very surprised to learn that this is their debut album. This band shows a maturity in their music that I would not expect from a first album and provides inspirational sounding tracks with ‘reach for the stars’ type of guitar riffs. I hear a modern version of U2 in The Ritualists, along with an influence of Radiohead. Their songs are full, wholehearted post-punk hooks with a lead singer that has a sizeable range.
“Rattles” opens the album, and it’s the type of song that shows their audience that they are here to stay. It has a great build-up of excitement and intensity. The band explains that this song is “A combination of dark, deep-pocketed verses juxtaposed with big, flashy choruses is a key element to tracks”.
“Ice Flower” and “Worthiest One” welcomes an electronic wave to the album and showcases just how impressive lead singer Christian Dryden’s range is. His ability to hit those high notes with such conviction puts my falsetto abilities to shame. “Worthiest One” brings this sort of nostalgic feeling- it’s a rock ballad with a floaty guitar riff.
“She’s The Sun” is a great follow-on from “Worthiest One” as it transfers the mood upwards and directs the music into more of a hypnotic vision, which conveys “the band’s inner Sixties Love Child”. “I’m With The Painted People” has a really relatable background to the song. Dryden felt a larger than life inspiration from people like David Bowie and Simon Le Bon, these artists felt like soulmates, which can be lonely at times. It wasn’t until he ventured out into the clubs of the lower east side of New York which helped him feel comfortable to express his creative vision freely. The song is all about finding like-minded people.
There are hooks galore and catchy choruses in pretty much every song. “With this record, I’ve specifically tried to be anthemic,” admits Dryden. “I’ve always loved going to shows, where immediately after the performance, and even on the ensuing days after, you just can’t help but remember and sing the songs you’ve just heard. It’s almost like a higher form of communication.” The Ritualists play some determined, strong-willed music and Painted People shows hints of variations with different genres explored throughout. They sound motivated and in return have produced motivating music for their listeners.
The Decline – Flash Gordon Ramsay Street
What The Decline get absolutely spot-on is their clinical, unrelenting brand of skate punk
It’s possible that since punk broke through to the mainstream in the mid to late ’90s, listeners outside of Australia think Frenzal Rhomb are the only band to have come from the lucky country. It’s true that during the rise of that Epitaph and Fat Wreck sound, Frenzal Rhomb became the namesake of the genre from Australia. However, Australian punks know that their history stretches long before the release of Survival of the Fattest. From the legendary sounds of The Saints to the rock n’ roll infused punk of Radio Birdman, Australia’s punk rock history is not only rich but very much precedes the genre’s mainstream explosion.
Frenzal Rhomb were another chapter in punk down under and for many, they opened a lot of doors. If not at the very least, proved that there were fertile grounds for new bands to emerge across the vast land. Western Australia’s The Decline formed in 2005 and quickly showed their talent for writing up-tempo melodicore that shred as much as it soared. From their 2010 debut, I’m Not Gonna Lie To You, it was clear that the band were equal parts snotty, urgent, funny, and melodic. Like the Frenzal Rhomb formula, they’ve got all of it in spades with a mean streak of Australianness that is both endearing and extremely relatable. Their latest album is no different.
From the title alone you can tell you’re in for a shedload of fun, and while it’s easy to think that Flash Gordon Ramsay Street is just goofy humor, it’s actually got a lot of pointed commentary too. From the animal-supportin’, veggie-lovin’, attack on meatlovers and meatheads (“Brovine”), to the real-estate market questioning “Smashed Avo”, there’s plenty of current talking points that The Decline run through. Sure, you also get vegan buffalo wing recipes (surprisingly, not the song titled “Bullet With Buffalo Wings”) and a love for The Legend of Zelda, but who says you can’t sing about Marxist theories while talking about your love for Nintendo?
What The Decline get absolutely spot-on is their clinical, unrelenting brand of skate punk; taking plenty of cues from the best of the NOFX / No Fun At All up-tempo, hardcore-derived brand of punk. The hooks on Flash Gordon Ramsey Street are as infectious as horny teens on spring break, highlighted by the endless harmonies on songs like the terrific “It Was Always You” and the call and response male-female vocal attack of “Verge Collection”. Brevity is also key, as the majority of the songs here never overstay their welcome with the longest clocking in at just 3:15 (the wistful closing of “Josh”).
Flash Gordon Ramsey Street is concise, to-the-point, and a furious medley of skate punk urgency that is relevant to young adult life as punks in Australia. Great production values to boot mean you can’t go wrong here.