by Gemma Laurence
There’s a certain intrigue surrounding Squirrel Flower… maybe it’s the world she creates – atmospheric and heady, apocalyptic and cosmic
Or maybe it’s the disarming quality of Ella Williams’ vocals, vacillating between melodic and deadpan, intensely emotive one moment and comfortably numb the next. Maybe it’s the way she stares unflinchingly at an amassing of mangled parts, transforming even the ugliest images into something beautiful – violent fantasies floating through washed-out soundscapes, roadkill wrapped up in a dreamy blanket of harmonies and metaphors.
Regardless of what initially pulls you into Squirrel Flower’s world, you will undoubtedly be pulled into Planet (i) with an intense gravitational force. The title for her latest record came to her first as a joke: ‘Planet (i)‘ being her made-up name for the new planet people will inevitably settle and destroy after leaving Earth.
‘Planet (i) is my body and mind,’ Williams says of the album, ‘and it’s the physical and emotional world of our planet. It’s both.’
The terrain on Planet (i) is wrecked by natural disasters – tornadoes and firestorms, flash floods and hurricanes. Yet there is a certain beauty in the planet’s apocalyptic demise. An ecological embodiment of personal trauma and healing, the ruin of Squirrel Flower’s planet carries a cathartic weight that is equally devastating and exquisite. And it is this tension that she captures so poignantly in her music.
‘To overcome my fear of disasters,’ Williams says, ‘I had to embody them, to stare them down.’ This journey of decay and healing is the lifeblood of Planet (i). ‘I’m not scared of the storm,’ she insists on ‘Desert Wildflowers.’ ‘I’ll be lying on the roof when the tornado turns.’
Marking a departure from her past work, Planet (i) takes an unexpected (and, might I add, delightful!) turn to her folk roots. Although we get moments of her signature indie rock angst (as we see on Hurt a Fly and Flames and Flat Tires), the record is primarily grounded in stripped-back off-kilter acoustic guitar arrangements that showcase her impressive vocal range and cerebral lyricism. From her near-indecipherable muttered intimacy on Iowa 146 to her soft country twang on Desert Wildflowers, to her soulful, lovestruck soprano on Starshine, the commanding presence of Williams’ voice carries the record with remarkable nuance and emotionality.
It’s been some time since I put on a record and didn’t think about anything but the music itself. But I got lost in Planet (i). A galactic tour de force, Planet (i) will pull you into its orbit violently and instantaneously, only to spit you out on the other side, spellbound. Undoubtedly Squirrel Flower’s finest work yet, Planet (i) might just be my favourite record of 2021.
Check out our interview with Squirrel Flower here.
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