The changing of seasons
Squirrel Flower, the alias of Ella O’Connor Williams, released her debut album titled I Was Born Swimming. According to Polyvinyl’s website, the album’s name is derived from Williams’s birth story. Commonly referred to as “en-caul” birth, Williams was born while still inside the amniotic sac, an occurrence that is very rare. It is this simultaneous disconnect and belonging that serves as the muse for the album, leading to very contradicting songs and sounds.
She kicks off with an important message, “I tried to be lyrical but lyrics failed me/ so I gave up poetry.” In the opening track, “I-80” Williams sets the mood for the rest of the album. The tone is consistent with the rest of her discography; indie with a splash of rock, courtesy of acoustic/electric guitars and a classic drum kit. The emotion and aura of the guitars are in the spotlight of almost every track. While the lyrics are not the main attraction, it is evident that they were written under strict consideration, each word having its own purpose. They may be few, but the lyrical elements of the album are quite striking.
The album starts incredibly strong and high-energy. The standout songs sit second and third in the album’s line-up. “Red Shoulder” is the epitome of the first half of I Was Born Swimming’s style. The song is only three stanzas worth of lyrics, while the last minute of the song is solely instrumentals. The song is very up-tempo, as Williams leans heavily on the rock influence.
The third song, “Slapback” also draws heavily on rock and roll but is denser lyrically. This song also showcases Williams’s raw, natural vocals displayed throughout the album. In the song’s climax, listeners can hear the ambiance and echo of the studio she is in, adding a beautiful authenticity to an already powerful piece.
The second half of the album is opened with “Seasonal Affective Disorder.” The track consists of only four lines, despite being the second-longest song on the album. The song gives a sense of longing, a calm yearning for warmer days. Williams invokes the need for the sun’s warmth when all we are given is gray skies and dirt-colored snow. This song appropriately leads into the bottom half of the album, which is an extremely slow tempo, long, and sluggish. Like summer and winter, the first six tracks in no way complement the final six, almost like two separate projects. Perhaps intentional, as to further embody the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder.
While the album starts stronger than it finishes, Williams does a wonderful job of forcing her audience to empathize with whatever emotion the song projects. With a runtime of only 35 minutes, the album is an easy listen that is sure to remind one of the feverish heat of summer and bitterness of winter.