From Smog and Elliott Smith to Mount Eerie, independent music loves the lonely, lo-fi auteur. Maybe it all started with Leonard Cohen’s late-night musings. If Blue Could Be Happiness, the latest from New York’s Florist, is an alarmingly quiet, hyper-confessional example of this style.
At first, nothing on the record reaches out and grabs you. The tempo and mood have an overwhelming sameness. Vocalist and primary songwriter Emily Sprague tells deeply personal stories over acoustic guitar with strings not so much plucked by fingers as moved by her own breath as she sings, melodically and sweetly off-tune.
Keyboard-generated sounds and strings add texture and touches of variety. It’s like adolescent BFFs telling secrets late at night, quietly, so as not to wake the parents asleep in the next room. Florist says by email that the band is based on this kind of friendship as well as a deep musical partnership.
“That’s how it survives,” the band writes. They’re driving north on California’s scenic Highway 101, the sky turning red from the recent wildfires. “Emily writes the songs alone at first, but the recording process is very collaborative and the band arranges and produces every song together. That’s what sonically makes Florist, Florist.”
They add: “Our set is very quiet and vulnerable, and we’d love to invite anyone to share that vulnerability with us.”
Upon deeper listening, a lot to love about Florist emerges, due in no small part to Sprague’s lyrics. “I’m just checking in on my mental state,” she sings on album-opener “Blue Mountain Road.” “We can be terrified together in this terrifying time.”
“Tell the blue jays to come inside, you love to watch them and so do I,” she sings on the wistful “Red Bird.”
I ask Florist to answer their own question: What if blue could be happiness? And are they all really as lonely as they sound on their album?
“We’re not really lonely,” they reply. “If anything, we’re comfortable in loneliness. But we have each other for starters, and that’s a lot.”
Blue can’t be happiness, Florist continues, “because nothing alone can be happiness. But it is an important part of the balance that we all need.”
Florist performs 7 pm Saturday, Nov. 17, at Hi-Fi Music Hall; $8 advance, $10 door, 21-plus.