by Dave Bertram
As Ella O’Connor Williams’ pseudonym Squirrel Flower was chosen during her childhood, so her debut I Was Born Swimming is founded on nostalgia – rewinding relentlessly to birth and her younger years.
And while much of the record’s twelve tracks are delivered through metaphor and intuitive writing, she is, at times, rather up-front when documenting her past. The LP’s title, for example, is quite literal – William’s was born ‘en caul’, or surrounded by the amniotic sac.
It is a fabulously open record, which has an absorbing dreaminess to it, and where the remains of relationships and, at points, uncomfortable ideas are picked through and analysed. On the heart stopping Heavy, she recalls, ‘Only you have flowers for fists, and it makes it easier when they come down on me.’
Musically, she draws her influence from the likes of Mitski and Cat Power, and creates reverb-laden landscapes, which evoke long, wide highways and significant distance. ‘Midnight workers, I know the darkness of these roads as well as you do,’ she sings over the sombre, lone-guitar of Belly of the City, reverent and church-like – enough to stir the hairs on the back of your neck.
Similarly, mid-album highlight, Headlights, continues the theme of rhythmic, delicate, flickering guitar work, which combines with soaring vocals and the stream of conscious introspection – a misty composition that sounds like the kind of headspace you enter while in transit.
There is plenty of variety here though. While it retains the overarching melancholy, Red Shoulder is a harder, indie-rock ballad led by a mix of overdriven guitar lines, ending with a visceral, emotive solo. Honey, Oh Honey! is a short, sharp, straight-up country rock song, which leaves all the reverb in the desk and the crash cymbals turned up on full.
In all, this record could be quickly written-off on first listen given its lack of immediate impact and some simple comparisons that can be drawn with other solo artists. That said, multiple plays acclimatise the listener and open up a casque of inspiring song-writing and composition.
Secret Meeting score: 78