The album’s title is factually correct. Florist are a band. They’ve been a band since 2013. They’ve released two albums as a band. And yet Emily Alone, Florist’s third album, is not the work of a band. It’s entirely the work of one woman. Emily Sprague, the leader of Florist, recorded Emily Alone by herself in her Los Angeles home. She wrote every song on the album, played every instrument on the album, produced the album, and even did most of the album’s mixing. Sprague releases ambient music under her own name, but she’s releasing Emily Alone as a Florist album. So that album title is a simple truth. You should not go into Emily Alone expecting to hear the work of Florist, the band whose past two albums you may have enjoyed. That’s not this. This is something else.
But the title is correct on more than a basic factual level. Sprague recorded Emily Alone about a year after she moved to Los Angeles. When Sprague moved, her mother had just died, and she’d just ended a serious relationship. That’s three life milestones — the death of a parent, a major breakup, a cross-country move — all piled on top of one another. Any one of those things could leave a person feeling profoundly alone in the universe. The combination of all three must make a person feel like she’s floating in space, utterly detached from the rest of humanity. And Emily Alone is an album about that state of being.
It’s a beautiful record. Sprague knows how to piece music together, and Emily Alone is full of hushed, enveloping sounds. The main instruments are a fluttering acoustic guitar and Sprague’s voice, which emerges as a soft murmur even when she’s multi-tracking herself into a tiny choir. But she adds other touches here and there: A melodica, a hazy electric-guitar strum, a quiet thrum of birdsong. Florist have never been a loud band, but Emily Alone is by far the lowest simmer that’s ever borne their name. It sounds like the inside of one human being’s skull.
And Sprague’s words are all strictly internal. On opening track, “As Alone,” Sprague literally sings to herself: “I write and I read, I spend time in the sea / But nothing brings clarity to what makes me me.” And then: “Emily, just know that you’re not as alone as you feel in the dark.” She’s singing it to herself, perhaps as some kind of halfhearted mental pep talk. On “I Also Have Eyes,” she again seems to be singing entirely to herself: “Now it’s time to go inside your mind / Find the void and stare it down.” Hearing it feels like eavesdropping on someone else’s inner monologue.
Elsewhere, Sprague dabbles in nebulous poetic imagery, in words that presumably mean more to her than they ever could to anyone listening to the album: “Everyone I know, including myself, is a hungry dog running toward the horizon.” She’s usually singing, but sometimes she’s literally just talking: “With these hands now as I know them, a new scar, and wow, tons of plants. Plant-induced psychosis.” But she always snaps it back, offering insight in blindingly clear language: “My life is only a combination of things that I mostly had no control over / And it took me a long time to figure that out.”
Since she moved to California, Sprague has taken up surfing, as one does. And throughout Emily Alone, the sea, Sprague’s new neighbor, comes up again and again, its baffling infinity both terrifying and comforting: “Why do I feel so happy when I stare at the ocean, then devastated when I stare at the ocean?” On the short spoken-word sketch “Still,” Sprague fantasizes about what it would be like to surrender to the water: “I think sound would disappear. Light would, too. That would be nice after a very earthly series of thoughts.”
Emily Alone isn’t an indie rock album, or a singer-songwriter album, or a folk album, or anything as easily pigeonholed as that. It’s an inward excavation, not a genre exercise. Really, it only reminds me of one album. Emily Alone is soft and soothing and beautiful, like Nick Drake’s Pink Moon. And like Nick Drake’s Pink Moon, it’s utterly immersed in depression and oblivion. Both albums create their own enveloping worlds. They’re blankets of incomprehensible sadness. Pink Moon is obviously a canonical classic, and I’m not trying to say that the two albums are equals. But they make me feel similar things.
Unlike Pink Moon, Emily Alone will presumably not the end of the story. When Stereogum’s James Rettig spoke with Sprague last month, she was in upstate New York, working with the rest of Florist on another album. That’s great. Florist’s full-band albums are wonderful. But they’ve never made anything quite as tingly and expressive and powerful as Emily Alone. Almost nobody ever has.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Chance The Rapper’s long-awaited “debut album” The Big Day.
• Spoon’s greatest-hits collection Everything Hits At Once.
• YBN Cordae’s much-anticipated debut The Lost Boy.
• Burna Boy’s Afrobeats crossover bid African Giant.
• Dude York’s latest power-pop effort Falling.
• B Boys’ spiky, energetic postpunker Dudu.
• Mikey Erg’s ’70s-indebted studio-popper Waxbuilt Castles.
• E-40’s Bay Area rap masterclass Practice Makes Paper.
• Ex-Speedy Ortiz guitarist Maneka’s solo debut Devin.
• Strange Ranger’s dreamy indie rocker Remembering The Rockets.
• BJ The Chicago Kid’s earthy R&B LP 1123.
• Lisel’s shimmery and complex pop debut Angels On The Slope.
• Violent Femmes’ seasoned folk-punker Hotel Last Resort.
• Resavoir’s self-titled sliced-up-jazz debut.
• Japanese band De Lorians’ psychedelic self-titled debut.
• Chris Gantry’s idiosyncratic outlaw country album Nashlantis.
• Lloyd Cole’s home-recorded return Guesswork.
• DJ Snake’s collab-happy EDM party Carte Blanche.
• Sūrya’s atmospheric doom album Solastagia.
• Thy Art Is Murder’s deathcore wallow Human Target.
• Queens Of The Stone Age affiliates Mini Mansions’ Guy Walks Into A Bar…
• A Sugar Ray album that is seriously called Little Yachty.