By Hannah Forsyth
From the opening track of Planet (i), Ella Williams embodies disaster. Recorded in Bristol, England and released on Polyvinyl, her third album as Squirrel Flower and follow up to 2020's I Was Born Swimming is an earnest introspection of herself and surroundings as the world burns down. According to Williams, "Planet (i) is my body and mind, and it’s the physical and emotional world of our planet. It's both." This heartbreakingly honest collection of songs begs to reverberate through a silent music hall of entranced fans.
In essence, Planet (i) represents Williams' growth from visceral indie rock in the vein of Big Thief and Mitski to her own signature blend of velvety rich vocals, reverb drenched guitars, country-tinged folk, and noisy rock. While her previous albums have been built heavily upon contrast with a couple of dramatic, big songs amid gentle meditations, on Planet (i), she has perfected this balancing act; the bold moments are more impactful and the tender moments are more captivating. For example, standout track "Big Beast" seamlessly escalates from gentle acoustic guitar paired with soaring delicate Joni Mitchell-esque vocal to a thunderous sludgy conclusion. Intimate fingerpicked "Iowa 146" and heavily distorted "Night" coexist on the same yearning, emotional plane.
Throughout the record, Williams also excels lyrically, using vivid imagery of both natural and manmade disasters including storms, tornados, and car crashes to explore themes of desperation, anger, loss of control, solitude, and survival. On opening track "I’ll Go Running," Williams compares herself to a "space rock burning fast," running away from a relationship to which she gave everything, vowing to emerge "newer than before" in the aftermath, while on both "Roadkill" and "Flames and Flat Tires" her life is a speeding car just barely retaining control.
The metaphor translates equally as well with the more stripped-down tracks, too. In both folksy "Deluge in the South" and tender "Desert Wildflowers," she welcomes the rain without fear, understanding herself a product of disaster in her survival. In this acceptance, she presents an ultimately hopeful journey of healing and growth.
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