Squirrel Flower uses her voice to prove her strength and complexity on Contact Sports.
Squirrel Flower vocalist Ella Williams can’t help but inspire comparison to artists like Empress Of, Mitski, and Weyes Blood. It’s not that her music is derivative of these other young vocalists so much as it’s evident that she’s gained a spot in their league, at least as of her sophomore release, Contact Sports. Like these other singer-songwriters, she uses her voice—both the words and the raw power of the sound—to posit and prove her own strength and complexity. Contact Sports distinguishes itself from albums by Williams’ contemporaries by being very particular to its place—that is, Iowa, where Williams went to college. Images of beasts, prey, flowers, clay, and corn are ensconced in vocals that recall religious music, like psalms and gospel. This allows Williams to employ a haunting, almost gothic Midwestern vernacular.
The title, in the context of the lyrics, clearly refers to love, which in Williams’ world is not only a contact sport but maybe even the most dangerous game. In “Not Your Prey,” Williams sings, “Feel you lurking, on the move, eyeing my back, making me shiver,” while in “Conditions,” she sings, “Don’t look at me like that, like you’ll kill me.” While Williams’ voice immediately seizes you with its glory, her lyrics, so crisply sung, demand attention as well. Her melodies unfold slowly, word by word, as if the voice is discovering them as it goes. Each song presents a clear mood, my favorite being the last, “Midwestern Clay.” “A vantage point above it all / The space between the fields of corn/ the fields, and the flat clouds,” she sings with her voice as vast as open as the space it describes. Williams herself said the album is about “reclaiming spaces,” and what better way to do that than holding them inside your own voice?
Listen to Squirrel Flower on bandcamp.
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Simone Wolff lives in NYC with their grandma, best friend, boyfriend, snake, spider, and two cats. They’re a Cancer sun, Gemini moon, and Capricorn rising.