"I’m a space rock burning fast" sings Ella Williams on ‘I’ll Go Running’, the opening song on Planet (i). It’s a line that stands out not just because it’s a clear reference to the title and concept of this second full- length the Boston-based 24-year-old has made as Squirrel Flower, but also because it demonstrates her incredible ability to exist both within and without herself at the same time, to turn clichés on their heads. When Freddie Mercury sang ‘I’m a shooting star leaping through the sky’ on Queen’s ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’, it was out of exuberance and celebration. Here, that same metaphor is much more portentous, used to emphasise the reverse – it’s a heart flailing, struggling to hope or cope, rather than one bursting with the joy of hedonistic exhilaration.
That’s something drummed in by the hushed and funereal melody that ironically give Williams’ words life. It’s deliberately dreary – sad and slow in equal measure – but not entirely devoid of all hope. "I’ll be newer than before," she proclaims just as the song reaches a tempestuous crescendo that’s both desperate and defiant, almost lost but hoping to be found. That carries through the whole record, which explores in intimate detail the singer’s own personal disasters while simultaneously reckoning with a world that’s also rife with them. 'Planet (i)', you see, isn’t just an album title, but also Williams’ made-up name for the new planet people she thinks are going to settle on and then destroy after they’ve left – or more likely, destroyed – Earth. While that idea was something of a joke, the songs here are anything but. Instead of throwing perspective on her fears, anxieties and problems and helping to alleviate them, that context and duality only amplifies them. They become her, and she becomes them.
‘Roadkill’ is a post-grungy drive into an apocalyptic sunset that’s riddled with all the conflicting emotions that always come with endings, while ‘Pass’ philosophises tenderly on the meaning of love and life as a tornado – literal, metaphorical, possibly both – wreaks havoc on the world around her. Elsewhere, ‘Hurt A Fly’ is one of the more optimistic-sounding songs on the album, but even its hopeful tone is laden with the threat and/or promise of everything crashing down. The tender strains of ‘Pass’ also offer a glimmer of hope, but one that, inevitably, eventually burns out and turns to dust. ‘Desert Wildflowers’ is similarly fragile – little more than just Williams’ uncertain but beautiful voice and the spaces in between her words as that tornado once again tears everything part – while ‘Deluge In The South’ has an airy, carefree feel to it, but with the knowledge that can’t, and won’t last.
The record ends with two songs that are halves of one whole – the atmospheric, down-tuned drone of ‘Night’ and the gentle, slightly lighter ‘Starshine’, a tribute to lost love that looks back fondly on a past or a person that’s long unrecognisable and unfamiliar. It watches from afar on that new planet millions of miles and years away, bristling with a powerful longing to return, despite the knowledge that doing so is truly impossible.
Words: Mischa Pearlman
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