For a moment you are driving down the darkened corridor of a street in your hometown. The once familiar landmarks look alien in the gaps between the street lights as they flicker in and out of focus. You feel the distance of years from who you were growing up in this town, and the place where you are now.
Squirrel Flower sounds like driving home in this tunnel of simultaneous half-remembered youth and ancientness.
Ella Williams has a way of sucking the air out of the room with her arresting yet understated ballads on love, memory, time and loneliness. With a voice as bright as a jet stream, she sings terrible truths in an unassuming way. I feel what is said before I hear it. When she sings “Condtions”, and the heavy rock sound underscores her singing, I feel a restrained anger pacing beneath the chords.
Don’t look at me like that, like you’ll kill me
I can outrun you and I’ll do it gracefully
‘Cause I’m gentle but I can’t move slowly
Don’t you dare say you do not know me.
Both awful and hilarious for its complete surreality, Williams tells us that “Conditions” was ripped off by a popular Russian rapper. She says she imagines the thousands of presumably hyper-masculine Russian men enjoying the performance of her song. It is an incongruous image with a song that is laced with undeniable female nuance. The emotional and lyrical themes of “Conditions” strangely reminds me of Gwen Harwood’s poem, The Lion’s Bride.
… she came daily with our special bowl
Barefoot into my cage, and set it down:
our love feast. We became the talk of town,
Brute king and tender woman, soul to soul.
In the end, the lion devours the woman in a fit of delusion over what he believes she is over her humanity. Squirrel Flower offers an antithesis to this in her marble-smooth voice in “Not Your Prey”.
Feel you lurking, on the move, eyeing my back, making me shiver.
But if you touch me I won’t be still.
You’re no predator. I’m not your prey, I’m not your kill.
Unerring as an arrow, Williams’s lyrics land true. Understated but no less powerful for their stripped back honesty.
As she takes the center stage alone to finish out the set, the lights dim until only two green lights remain. Two green searchlights illuminate her, and these eyes glow as she paints a mist of time and loneliness over the room.
For a second, she sets a thousand mile stare over the audience into a memory that we can’t see, and she can’t reach. Midwestern Clay is a vignette from the grasslands of middle America and feels like the musical equivalent of watching a sunrise alone.
I got no idea what’s keeping me in the air
But nothing’s keeping me on the ground.
I got no idea what I’m doing here
But I’m here cause I got no place else to be.
There is an interesting distinction between ‘no place else to be,’ rather than ‘no place else to go.’ There is a kind of passivity, a sense of floating from place to place rather than actively swimming.
If you enjoy the kind of grungy sound and lonely girl rock of Mitski and the suburban nostalgia of Lorde’s “Pure Heroine”, Squirrel Flower is a must listen. Listen to her most recent album “Contact Sports” below, and find her on social media.