New Music Reviews: Emily Wells, Beyoncé, and Florist

In this week’s set of new reviews, two artists who you may not have encountered previously, as well as global superstar Beyoncé.

Emily Wells and Florist’s Emily Sprague both identify as LGBTQ. Wells’ Regards to the End addresses the AIDS pandemic while Beyoncé’s Renaissance was inspired by Black dance music. She was introduced to the scene by her cousin, who helped to raise her before he passed away during the AIDS epidemic. As for the link between Beyoncé and Florist, read on for details…

Emily Wells

Regards to the End

2022, 8/10
Multi-instrumentalist Emily Wells has been recording music for almost three decades. At the age of 13, she made her first record, a self-recorded cassette. Influenced by Wu Tang Clan, Phillip Glass, and John Cage, Wells plays a wide array of instruments on Regards to the End, including cello, viola, and violin. With light percussion and layered with Wells’ string instruments and keyboards, Regards is as close to classical music as it is to pop. It’s dense with ideas, and Wells’ keening voice can be an acquired taste. Wells’ father, a former music minister, plays French Horn.

Wells’ music is angst-fuelled – Regards to the End addresses the AIDS crisis and the climate crisis. On the standout piece ‘Arnie and Bill to the Rescue’, Wells writes about Arnie Zane and Bill T. Jones, a couple who founded an avant-garde dance company in 1983. The song is about the night when Zane died from AIDS-related complications, and the medics wouldn’t touch him. Despite the tragic subject matter, Wells’ main motif that runs through the tune is gorgeous. In the context of the album, the closer ‘Blood Brother’ is suitably climactic, Wells seemingly drawing parallels between the Christian tradition of communion and the AIDS crisis.

Musically dense and thematically heavy, Regards to the End is often gorgeous.


Beyoncé

Renaissance

2022, 6/10
Beyoncé Knowles is a global superstar, up in rarefied air along with Drake, Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, Bad Bunny, and Ed Sheeran. While I have firm opinions on the merits of those other artists, I’m on the fence about Beyoncé. Renaissance was inspired by post-1970s Black music styles like disco and house – Beyoncé was introduced to this music by her cousin.

Despite it’s thematic origins, Renaissance feels cynical – an overstuffed superstar album that’s overlong and engineered to maximise streaming revenue. Nevertheless, there are some terrific tracks toward the centre of the album – there’s a great sequence that starts with the gospel-tinged lead single ‘Break My Soul’. ‘Church Girl’ is another great showcase for Beyoncé’s hybrid rap singing, backed by a gospel choir. The gentle ‘Plastic Off the Sofa’ and the woozy disco of ‘Virgo’s Groove’ complete a sequence that overshadows the remainder of Renaissance. Earlier on the record, ‘Cuff It’ is another great moment, with Beyoncé backed by legends like Chic’s Niles Rodgers and percussionist Sheila E. Elsewhere, there’s often more attitude than there is musicality – tracks like ‘Thicc’ and ‘I’m That Girl’ are only carried by Beyoncé’s charisma.

There an impressive run of tracks at the heart of Renaissance, but it needed some trimming.


Florist

Florist

2022, 7.5/10
There’s a link between Beyonce’s world-conquering success and Emily A. Sprague’s gentle folk-rock. Beyoncé employed part of the Florist track ‘Thank You’ in her 2019 Netflix concert movie Homecoming.

Florist is the Brooklyn quartet’s fourth album, following 2019’s Emily Alone, which featured only Sprague. Recorded on a porch of a rented house in Hudson Valley during wet summer nights, echoing Sprague’s childhood in the Catskills. The record captures the ambience of its surroundings – the opening track ‘June 9th Nighttime’ features crickets in the background.

It’s tempting to draw parallels with Big Thief – both bands have an introspective singer who comes across as an outsider. Generally I prefer Big Thief’s earthy arrangements to Florist’s ambience – my favourite song on the Florist album is ’43’, with a tougher sound. Of the 19 tracks on Florist, only 9 are fully-fledged songs. The remainder of the record is given over to shorter interludes, which add to the atmosphere – the intensity of ‘Bells (Pt. 3)’ is another welcome diversion on a chilled record.

There’s admirable craftmanship on Florist – it’s gorgeous mood music, capturing a rainy summer’s evening in upstate New York.

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14 Comments

    • I normally operate a few weeks/months behind on new releases – I like to give things a chance to make an impression. Having said that, Taylor Swift is pretty easy to review since I know her previous stuff. So far I think it’s good, but a little samey – it would maybe slot in the midrange of Swift releases for me, along with Evermore, Lover, and Fearless.

  1. Emily Wells’ music is captivating, but her vocals take a bit of getting used to, and aren’t always easy to understand. I’m on the fence about Beyoncé as well; I’ve really liked some of her songs, but others leave me cold. I am liking her recent dance tunes like “Break My Soul” and “Virgo’s Groove” though. The Florist track is lovely. I’ll have to check out the album.

    • Thanks for listening. Wells’ singing is a bit of an acquired taste, but there’s a lot of musicality there. “Break my Soul” and “Virgo’s Groove” are two of my favourites from the Beyonce album too.

  2. All three albums are clearly outside my core wheelhouse. Based on my very first impression, I think I’m mostly intrigued by Florist. When it comes to Beyonce, I oftentimes feel like I do about Christina Aguilera: Great vocalist with songs that don’t showcase well her vocal capabilities!

    • Florist doesn’t seem too far from your wheelhouse – you’ve been covering a bit of indie lately.

      There are some really good songs on that Beyonce album, but sometimes feels as though she’s trying too hard to be edgy.

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