In Emily A. Sprague’s indie-folk project Florist—sometimes accompanied by her bandmates, sometimes solo—the Catskill, New York native makes music of startling intimacy. Her last album, the self-explanatory Emily Alone, was as unadorned as a Shaker chair, stripped down to mostly acoustic guitar and voice. “Death will come/Then a cloud of love,” she sang, a philosopher of monosyllables. But on Sprague’s albums under her own name, she trades language for the mercurial sounds of modular synthesizers, her undulating drones as formless as galaxies. If Florist’s music is a pen-and-ink line drawing, an Emily A. Sprague recording is more like a trick of the light captured on fogged film.
At these two poles, the opposite sides of her music mirror each other. Recorded in the wake of her mother’s death and a move out West, Emily Alone was about grief and solitude. In sound and materials, the electronic Hill, Flower, Fog is a world away from that album’s hushed, introspective folk, but it is also, in its way, a record of mourning. She recorded its six instrumental tracks in a single week in March, in the early days of the pandemic. “I found myself suddenly a part of that stream which flows now separate from the reality we used to know,” she wrote upon first uploading the album to Bandcamp in March, just four days after she had finished it. (The RVNG Intl. edition has been expanded and resequenced.) “It is meant as a soundtrack to these new days, practices, distances, losses, ends, and beginnings.” Rather than fear or discord, though, she emphasizes a grounding tranquility.
Hill, Flower, Fog is cut from similar cloth as its electronic predecessors Water Memory and Mount Vision. Soft and luminous, its cycling patterns trace gentle shapes, generally favoring major over minor keys. They seem targeted largely at the subconscious; once the closing song’s patient andante arpeggios fade to silence, it can be hard to remember many details about the preceding 40 minutes. At the same time, Sprague’s sounds are more sharply defined than before; she has replaced the diffuse pads and gaseous tone clusters of previous albums with cool, woodwind-like leads and bright chimes. Lush as a dewy field, “Moon View” opens the album with what sounds like a duet for music box and pastoral recorder; “Horizon” likewise plays crisp tintinnabulations off reverberant held tones, syncopated delay sending ripples across the song’s placid surface.
That palette doesn’t change much; all six tracks play up the contrast between pin-prick details and drawn-out echoes. The mood throughout is wistful but unburdened, as if acknowledging the pain of the present moment but also resigned to it, and determined to persevere. The slow, steady quarter notes of “Rain” capture a quiet sense of wonder. “Woven” is constructed around wavering open fifths that faintly recall the drones of Indian classical music; around them drip all manner of squiggles and accents, soft as melting ice cream. The nine-minute “Mirror” proceeds as though Sprague had simply set the dials on her modular rig and gone to make a cup of tea; it pings and burbles with a mind of its own, its rhythm like the aftermath of a rainfall, when the dripping from the eaves and the trees creates its own aleatory symphony.
In a break from the extreme abstraction of Sprague’s previous electronic work, Hill, Flower, Fog is accompanied by Greetings from Hill, Flower, Fog, a limited-edition book of her own photographs, which she says relate “moments of pause, peace, and communion experienced at home.” They are simple images of familiar objects. Bougainvillea bobs against a sunbleached wall; the full moon floats in rose-tinted dusk; shadows fall across a deep green lawn. These small moments are charged with a sense of the ineffable; each one feels like a fleeting record of time’s passing. In its aimless repetition, free of moments of tension or drama, the music of Hill, Flower, Fog conveys a similar sensibility—a kind of serene estrangement from the everyday. The year has presented us with much to rage against; Sprague’s benevolent music gives us reasons to be grateful.
Buy: Rough Trade
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