Ferdinand de Saussure would have a field day with Florist’s lyrics on The Birds Outside Sang. The father of structuralism based his school of literary criticism on binary oppositions and the band’s Double Double Whammy debut abounds with them. Bandleader Emily Sprague builds tension by juxtaposing themes like childhood and adulthood, hope and doubt, gender and sexuality and life and death, which drive the forward momentum of the album. Darkness and light permeate the album as Sprague explores her mortality following a serious bicycle accident that left her bedridden with a broken arm and neck.
The listener follows Sprague, who began the recording while convalescing, through her struggle to get well and in this way the songs form a concept album about rebirth. Healing is not a straightforward process, and a triumphant exclamation like on track “I Was” (“I found a love that’s here to stay”) can segue into a defeatist confession like on “Rings Grow” (“I used to think I was leaves but I’m bark and I’m peeling away”).
Of the albums 12 tracks, half were recorded solo by Sprague and half with the help of bandmates Felix Walworth, Jonnie Baker and Rick Spataro. Apart from the sea of vocals, it’s not always evident which tracks are solo ventures and which aren’t. The music is often minimal, relying on Sprague’s vocals—which creak like a basement step— to tell a story; or as Sprague told Rookie, “Florist songs are fairly simple and don’t have a lot of tracks on them.”
In fact, the music’s genius is that it steps back and lets Sprague’s candid lyrics take center stage. Sprague wears her heart on her album sleeve and, as a result, her honesty endears her to the listener. Her words feel more like abstract poetry set to music than lyrics. If a stanza rhymes, it’s incidental.
Florist’s previous outing, EP Holdly, tackles similar hopes and fears presented on The Birds Outside Sang. Sprague’s perennial reference points of childhood, water, memories and light are all accounted for, but they reach the audience through a poppier package. Track “White Light Doorway” may be a lasting remnant of this previous sound, perhaps because it is a re-recording of a song from a previous EP. It’s a lively performance that silences the death knell pervasive throughout much of the album.
The Birds Outside Sang manages a surprising feat: it’s moodier and more somber than Holdly, yet taken as a whole its message is one of redemption.
Sprague’s parting words on her BandCamp page read, “My one and only goal is that someone can listen to this album and feel/see something, and take it with them as a thought.” I think it’ll do much more than that.