by Preston Radtke
The sophomore LP from Brooklyn-based indie-pop outfit Florist is an awakening for the band, a portrait of what music nerds thought the band should be and a realization of the band’s place in the indie sphere. Their debut output The Birds Outside Sang, released in 2016, is the folksy yin to If Blue Could Be Happiness’s yang. Much more stripped-back and earthy, LP 2 features many of the same lyrical constructs and thematic tropes found on LP 1. If Blue Could Be Happiness is much more complex and mature in its song arrangements however, providing a promising step forward for Florist. Unfortunately, that step forward is completely negated by the track order, making many pundits wonder if this is a traditional album or just a 10-song collection of singles.
Themes are still heartbreaking
On their 2016 record, Florist created an album of mourning and angst. Emily Sprague, the lead singer and main songwriter for the band, crafted many tracks from the standpoint of a hospital-ridden patient pondering the limitations of her newly adopted state and the sad atrocities that one tends to linger on when they have nothing else to do. That is because Sprague was in fact one of those individuals. During the writing of The Birds Outside Sang Sprague suffered a near-death accident resulting in a broken neck and broken leg. Tracks like “I Was”, “A Hospital + Crucifix Made of Plastic”, and “Cold Lakes Quiet Dreams” found the band delving in to the deepest reaches of gloom, despair and helplessness.
Seemingly healthy and emboldened from a tangible perspective, the four-piece band went about commenting on depression, wanderlust and loss on their second record. Florist talks about depression from several different angles. The initial track “Blue Mountain Road” gives a haunting detail of the paralyzing effect and isolationistic state that depression puts upon someone. The truly unsettling and obviously effective thing about “Blue Mountain Road” is just how instrumentally upbeat it is. Vague listening would make one think that the track is about hope or starting anew. Lyrically however, Sprague drives the concept of the song home with repeated allusions to the dark and looking for a light that never comes. That juxtaposition is a beautiful and relevant manifestation of depression itself. Someone may seem fine and happy on the surface, but once you dig deeper and uncover the shades and layers of misdirection, you will sincerely realize just how brooding they actually are.
“Understanding Light” deals with depression from a more hypothetical view. The song features the protagonist dealing with their terror of having depression. Many allusions and Armageddon-esque scenarios play out in which the protagonist quakes under the possibility of getting depression and how that will impair them.
Perhaps the prettiest and most innocent track on the album, “What I Wanted to Hold”, paints Florist as a child yearning to go back to their home where they are loved and comfortable. The song alludes to the world moving too fast and being too volatile for the band. The guitar and vocal interplay are the most in-tune and synergistic. “Glowing Brightly” paints with the same brush as “What I Wanted To Hold”. This time though, the band seems to have matured, less wary and afraid of the outside world and more mature in their desire to go home. Kind of like a thirty-something who hasn’t visited their family in a few years and is completely okay with that, but they still feel some sort of obligatory duty to do so. “Glowing Brightly” is both an homage to where the band has gone and where the band is from.
The darkest song on the album, “Thank You Light”, is a chilling imagination of the protagonist’s death. Sprague casually describes the protagonist’s much anticipated and envied murder, seemingly impervious to the natural feelings associated with such an occasion. The track’s true color comes out in the realization of waste, and unfulfilled potential by the recently disceased. Sprague’s bullish delivery makes one think that the dead one almost deserves to die due to their wasted ability and empty output.
Florist runs to the woods
Combined with the lyrical content, song structure and Sprague’s voice, many people were caught-off-guard by The Birds Outside Sang’s heavy electronic and synthetic instrumental presence. Everything seemed to point to a more folk-leaning and inspired instrumental orchestration. The band has acknowledged this, that their first LP wasn’t how they expected it to be in this light. Sprague’s accident not only impacted the lyrics, but it necessitated a vacation of the acoustic guitar in most cases due to her broken arm and a sanctuary in the mixing lab.
If Blue Could Be Happiness is what everyone expected, and what many desired from Florist instrumentally. There are no electric guitars, no usage of synthesizers or keyboards, and minimal uses of percussion. The implementation of the acoustic guitar gives the songs a much gentler, more somber tenor, more effectively driving home many of the album’s more morose concepts.
In some instances however, the guitar work is almost too brooding and plodding. “Red Bird”, the final song on the record, leaves the listener hanging and looking for something to grasp. Neither Sprague’s minimalistic vocals nor the snail-like guitar section provide enough texture or volume for the song. This could work if the song’s message dealt with confusion or marauding. Unfortunately, Sprague’s vocals are very generic and give little context for the song’s actual meaning. Furthermore, the instrumentals don’t fill in the gaps that Sprague creates, resulting in a severely imperfect, incomplete recording. The slightest bit of percussion or even reverb could have made this song at least a little bit more interesting.
The notable lack of percussion is one of the bigger qualms with the instrumentals on this record. Again, some of the tracks lack a bit of personality and backbone, both things that drums and cymbals would provide. Both “If Blue Could Be Happiness” and “Glowing Brightly” find the band utilizing measured percussives that give the slightest amount of rhythm and tempo, guiding the album out of the treehouse and into the coffee house. These two tracks, probably the best off the album, are much more accessible and easy to understand. On other tracks, the lack of tempo and other instrumentation make it harder for listeners to understand just what the song is about.
Maybe they should hit shuffle again
On an album full of strengths and progression, one major pitfall is the tracklist. Florist left a lot to be desired when they arranged this record. “Blue Mountain Road”, the first song off the record, is a poor, and fatally ineffective opener. The song showcases little of what’s to come later on in the album and the subject matter is immediate in its depth and weight, thrusting too much on to the listener too soon. A more proper opening track would have been “Eyes in the Sun.” The fifth cut from the record, “Eyes in the Sun” is a rare upbeat track featuring the main character’s wish to runaway with a loved one, and them imagining what their life would be like together. The track reveals intricate guitar work and effective vocals reminiscent of later songs on the record.
The penultimate piece “Instrumental 3” is truly perplexing. As the title suggests, “Instrumental 3” is a piece devoid of vocals, a sort of bridge to another section of the album. But as it turns out, that other section is simply the last track. Usually instrumentals and interludes are found in the middle of the record, primarily for blocking off conceptual series of songs from unrelated ones. The placement of “Instrumental” makes absolutely no sense. The preceding track “If Blue Could Be Happiness” is yet another track that deals with loss and decay, and the following track “Red Bird” appears to be cut out of the same mold. A better placement for “Instrumental” would have been between “Glowing Brightly” and “Thank You Light”, since both tracks which deal with opposing emotions. Moreover, both seem to bookend sections of concepts that seem to necessitate a sort of buffer zone for listeners to fully absorb content before, and prepare themselves for what’s to come.
“Eyes in the Sun”
Recommended if you like:
Girlpool – Before the World Was Big
Eskimeaux – O.K.
Mac DeMarco – Salad Days
Featured image from Bandcamp
If Blue Could Be Happiness
'If Blue Could Be Happiness' is a promising and fulfilling step forward for Florist. It is by far not a perfect product, but the complex arrangements, mature themes and more appropriate instrumentation paint a prosperous picture of the future for this burgeoning artist. Yet, the album arrangement, lack of diversified instrumentals and inconsistent vocal and guitar interplay show that the band still has much to work on.