Florist guitarist Emily Sprague stood alone, instrument slung across her body in lowest of possible lights. The audience at the band’s Philadelphia Mausoleum of Contemporary Art (PhilaMoCA) concert in August felt warm and mellow, some swaying, some sitting, sunk into the earth and couches. Couples were holding hands and playing footsie. A woman who was previously meditating simply laid down and rested her head at my foot. Sprague spoke softly into the microphone, once again asking for more reverb, and we were off into another three or four-chord song that spoke to comfortable dissociation.
Florist, a Brooklyn-based indie pop group on tour with performer Ami Dang, left me with a sense of tranquility that I forgot music could provide. In part, this was due to the comfy chairs and the small confines of the room, but more so the expert playing and compositional sensibilities of Florist. Despite being kitted out like a rock band—drums, guitars, synthesizers, and voice—this four-person ensemble can play softly, letting the timbres of each instrument shine alongside Sprague’s bright voice.
They have the best dynamic contrast of a pop group I’ve ever heard, only occasionally reaching for comfortably loud in their approximately hourlong set. Their drummer, Felix Walworth, should be commended for his restraint and grace. Jonnie Baker is unafraid to experiment in evoking certain emotions, whether bowing his electric guitar, playing a breathy saxophone, or utilizing subtle pitch bending on his synthesizer. His multiple electronic creations were engaging, a delicious orange icing on the heavily refined sheet cake of pop music.
It is this willingness to explore different rhythms, sounds, and emotions which allows Florist to treat chord structure as perfunctory and remain interesting. However, I do wonder what far-off imaginings they could show us if they just got a bit wilier with their progressions. It was a treat just to hear Sprague end one song on a dissonant guitar chord.
My only true complaint is that for whatever reason—the room’s acoustics or Sprague’s insistence on more reverb—it was quite hard to make out her words when all the band members were playing. I do believe the lyrical essence still shone through, though, due to Sprague’s ability to project fragility and reflectivity through her otherwise strong voice and hypnotic stage presence.
Sitar, voice, electronic beats
Touring alongside the band is sitarist, vocalist, and electronic musician Ami Dang. Her work mixes a wide variety of styles and has as much in common with EDM as with her North Indian cultural roots. Either singing solo or playing sitar, she accompanies herself with what I presume are self-produced electronic beats. It is in this interplay of human and machine that her music alternatively succeeds and fails.
The sitar sections were quite excellent, with Dang’s playing proving harmonious with most but not all of her accompaniment. However, her singing, though interesting on its own, was very disjunct with the electronic sounds, failing to unify into a cohesive whole.
The on-and-off nature of her music was amplified by curiously short song times, which seemed rather arbitrary. The thrift of the pieces led me to feel like each one failed to really develop, instead presenting us with a static machine with a voice or a sitar trapped inside of it.
There is much potential in Dang’s ideas and her skill; I just hope it’s better executed and conceptualized as she improves as a musician.
Overall, the PhilaMoCA show provided the perfect nightcap after a long day’s work.
What, When, Where
Florist and Ami Dang at PhilaMoCA, 531 N. 12th Street, Philadelphia, on August 14, 2019. Philamoca.org or (267) 519-9651.
There is one step leading into PhilaMoCA’s entrance. Visitors can request a movable metal ramp.