Flowers incorporates jangle pop, surf, and garage rock influences on their bright-eyed sophomore effort.
For reasons that we all understand, however hesitant we may be to point them out, it’s always been tougher to sell a woman with an unconventional voice than a man. For every Björk there are a dozen Tom Waitses, for every Kate Bush there’s an army of Morrisseys. Flowers’ vocalist Rachel Kenedy’s voice is the most obvious feature of their sound, and it’s by no means conventional. Her voice is ethereal, in the most otherworldly sense of the word: insubstantial, vaporous, vague and faraway.
Flowers’ new record, Everybody’s Dying to Meet You, plays to the strengths of Kenedy’s voice. The guitar is punchier than ever, the drums are loud and raucous. It’s the sweetness and lightness that Kenedy’s voice adds which gives depth and flavor to the garage rock fervor of the band. It’s an expansion on the sounds of their first record, Do What You Want to, It’s What You Should Do, released in 2014, and a marked improvement. Do What You Want To was recorded during a period of prolonged illness for guitarist Kevin Ayers, and the low-energy playing on the record is an overt reflection of his health. The songs suffer for it: without driving music behind her, Kenedy’s voice evaporates into the atmosphere, and the album as a whole ends up very monochromatic.
Fortunately, Everybody’s Dying to Meet You sees the band in top form, and Ayers’ guitar work is at the forefront of what makes these songs so listenable. The energetic lead single, “Pull My Arm”, features a sort of surfy, almost Vampire Weekend-esque little guitar figure that elevates the song from generically catchy pop tune to the sort of fodder that will fill party playlists this year. “All at Once” and “My Only Friend” occupy a similar space, with heavy drums and distorted guitar working well to undercut the delicate sound of Rachel Kenedy’s voice.
On more subdued tracks, of course, the formula falters. “Tammy” and “Bitter Pill” especially manage to veer back into the one-note vibe of the previous album, despite the more upbeat instrumentals. Not all hope is lost, though: the album’s centerpiece, “Intrusive Thoughts”, offers up slow-build, achingly sincere verses that move towards a melodic catharsis of a chorus. The chorus, while staying within a slower, mellow framework, still manages to deliver an extremely satisfying payoff. It’s clear that Flowers aren’t stagnating on an established sound: their experimentation with song forms on this record transcends anything they’ve done previously, even if they keep within the confines of a garage rock vocabulary. While some tracks land spectacularly and others falter, the only sure thing is that Flowers are still growing as artists, and are willing to push the boundaries of their back catalogue.
A sophomore effort must necessarily improve upon its predecessor for a band to have any hope of expanding their fan base, and Flowers is smart enough to have built on and around their previous work creating songs that are both more accessible and more ambitious. These are tracks that have the ability to win over those who wrote off Rachel Kenedy’s vocals from the first album: it’s a step forward for weird-voiced frontwomen all over. Released smack dab in the middle of the bleakest month of the year, Everybody’s Dying to Meet You is refreshingly bright and warm, a glimpse of the upcoming spring in which Flowers’ tracks will really bloom.