Florist pursues nostalgic impressionism on ‘If Blue Could Be Happiness’
Mike Donovan | Wednesday, October 11, 2017
In his poem “Digging,” Irish poet Seamus Heaney condenses generations of wonderment under his imagistic microscope. From a humble wound in the soil — “Under my window, a clean rasping sound / When the spade sinks into gravelly ground” — he resuscitates family history — “My grandfather cut more turf in a day / Than any other man in Toner’s bog” — and excavates vision of immortality hidden the “soggy peat.” Heaney, however, must respect the limits of his pen since he has “no spade to follow men like them.” His work delivers nature once removed.
On her sophomore LP, “If Blue Could be Happiness,” Emily Sprague of Florist assumes Heaney’s poetic lens recreating her beloved Catskills by way of Brooklyn.
But Sprague, like Heaney, has limits. Arrangements and lyrics are simply tools of mimicry, not gateways to another dimension. Sprague, though, seems aware of her artistic limitations, crafting her songs accordingly. Her efforts guide listeners to an easel in the basement of a townhouse where they can paint distant landscapes in abstract.
As the album’s title suggests, Sprague’s impressionist feats begin with color — the importance of which she outlines on “Understanding Light.” She first considers it — “There is no color like the darkness in my life” — before exploring the lower echelons of the spectrum — “See when I exhale and it hits the window pane / Turning clear to white and darkness to grey.” From these states of muffled feeling, Sprague decides, “I want to live in blueness.”
Sprague’s colors represent humanity’s basic and infinitely mutable emotional foundation — the pallet with which she paints her landscapes. “Blue Mountain Road,” again describes the significance of a pallet by detailing its absence — “And being alive is not singing along / Or looking outside the window at the darkness of it all.” The road takes its true shape once she fills in the spaces with blue, “the color in [her] heart” that’s “been there all along.”
As Sprague’s spectrum branches out, her images grow in complexity. “What I Wanted to Hold” examines a “Yellow light on the wall” as a gateway to “sights and smells / and sounds of old.” The “beam of light” suddenly illuminates an “Autumn afternoon” of her youth, if only for a moment before “it slowly fades to blue.” Similarly, red grounds Sprague — “a mother’s only daughter in the red of earth” — on the song “Red Bird.” It reminds her of love’s rich beauty as “the sun is starting to fall.”
Each color offers only a minuscule glimpse into the vast ranges of Sprague’s nostalgic landscapes — “Little speck of us in my mind,” she calls them. Much like an impressionist painting, they tell a cohesive story, but in splotchy, vague and unfamiliar strokes. Moreover, colors never burst without an ensuing period of darkness — indicating the generational cycle of life and death that exist within the recesses of one’s memories.
Every moment of darkness in Sprague’s colored narrative (and there are many) remains for the listeners, who can then take up her colors and paint their own memories with only her skeletal guitar lines and softly billowing synth parts as a guide. The album’s instrumental sections, especially, permit listeners to run unfettered through the hills and trees of her tonal creation.
Where Heaney digs, finding memories in the sturdiness of the ground, Sprague floats, seeking memories in the fluidity of the air. Both find pathways into their memories, if only for a short, incomplete period.
Album: “If Blue Could Be Happiness”
Label: Double Double Whammy
Favorite Track: “What I Wanted to Hold”
If you like: Frankie Cosmos, Soccer Mommy, Emily Yacina
Shamrocks: 4 out of 5