Squirrel Flower’s new release the Planet EP is an accompaniment to her 2021 album Planet (i) and features five tracks that are self-recorded demos and two tracks that were part of the Planet (i) sessions but didn’t make it on to the album. There is a minimalism to all but the final track ‘live wire’, and you can hear ambient noise such as city sounds, the creak of fingers on guitar strings, blunt washes of reverb and echo but nothing here feels unrealised or diminished. On tracks likes ‘open wound’, ‘your love is a disaster’ and ‘sitting in traffic’ time is suspended with only the slightest movement like the subtle motion of a boat on a calm day. Ella Williams’ voice can be the whispering wind that moves the grass or the powerful torrent that moves boulders.
It’s a brave singer who takes on a cover of a Björk song but the version of ‘unravel’ (from the 1997 album Homogenic) aches with the intensity love can inspire – the L’amour fou – with Williams giving voice to love’s vulnerability one minute and soaring with its incredible power in the next (see the video below). ‘long days done’ is languid folk song reminiscent of Nick Drake’s home recordings (available on the Time Has Told Me bootleg) and ‘ruby at dawn’ is a gentle hymn built on the kind of organ you hear in a small rural church and it blossoms into two beautiful interlocking harmonies that swoop over bicycle spoke drums. ‘live wire’ could be the sister song to ‘unravel’ with a brutal litany of what the narrator would do whilst deep in the madness of love.
The tracks on the Planet EP might be the musical equivalent of the maquettes a sculptor makes in order to understand how a finished piece will work, but there is emotional intensity in the imperfection; a rawness that makes them feel more intimate and it’s as if you are in the room while they are being recorded. Ella Williams says “I’ve always felt that the pieces and process and secrets behind a finished record are the most important parts. Releasing this EP is an exercise in self-trust and experimentation. Not all songs need to be precious and kept for the exact right time, not all recordings need to be perfect”.
This EP is an amazing glimpse into the songwriting process of an incredible artist who has one of the finest voices around. These songs are not to be consigned to a ‘curiosities, demos and rarities’ album but deserve to sit front and centre. Squirrel Flower/Ella Williams is an artist whose voice can be powerful and true as it is on a track like ‘Red Shoulder’ (from I Was Born Swimming), or vulnerable, intoxicating and strong as flint as you hear in these songs. I saw Squirrel Flower play live at the start of 2020 and it was mesmerising (it felt like the audience held their breath for the duration of the set) and, happy days, there are UK shows scheduled for later this year so if you like what you hear don’t delay in buying your tickets because I would imagine they will sell out.
On tour in the UK
Apr 17 Nice n’ Sleazy, Glasgow, UK
Apr 18 Brudenell Social Club Leeds, UK
Apr 20 The White Hotel Salford, UK
Apr 21 Lafayette London, UK
Apr 23 Louisiana Bristol, UK
Apr 24 Green Door Store Brighton, UK
Review by Paul F Cook