Montreal-based indie singer-songwriter Emily Rockarts’ Little Flower is a triumphant debut record bursting with sonic easter eggs. Poised, polished, poppy and endearing, it’s hard to believe its a debut album.
Rockarts is a self-confessed extroverted introvert: probably not the life of the party, but a cool and comfortable, sharp-eyed observer much like the wallflower in Little Flower’s lilting title track. “Quietly can be the loudest way to speak/to be heard through the roar/lean in, tell me more … “ Rockarts beckons on “Little Flower” in her delicate yet assertive voice.
After her undergrad, Rockarts sat on her EP for two years until her guitarist and partner Dan Rougeau suggested she put it out. Mapmaker literally saw Rockarts and her band (which also includes fellow schoolmates Soren Nissen on bass and Ian Wright on drums) traversing Canada’s map from coast to coast, alongside a few top 20 appearances on !earshot charts, as well as airplay of “Whale Song” on CBC’s The Sunday Edition.
Despite these accomplishments, it was a 2018 singer-songwriter residency at the Banff Centre that propelled Rockarts to quit her office job in Toronto, relocate to Montreal and focus on music. She also wrote “Right Now,” “Without You” and “Vistas” in Banff and refined other songs that would appear on Little Flower, including “Get It All Back,” “Margaret” and “Stranger.”
Rockarts’ songs begin at the piano (she plays piano on “Vistas” and keyboard on “Golden Hour”) but her songwriting has migrated deep into guitar territory. Her songs often explore interpersonal relationships: expressing heartbreak, love, loss, and being in the moment. “Margaret” is a classic character song meditating on why some people can’t commit; while “Golden Hour” is a reflection on the heartbreak that Alzheimer’s and Dementia has on a relationship between two lifelong partners, remembering the time they had together before the memory fades. Other songs, like “Vistas,” paint vast lyrical landscapes, contextualizing human perspectives.
Taken as a whole, Little Flower is about personal growth and empowerment and not being afraid to take up space as a person and as a woman. This is possibly best expressed on cathartic “Stranger,” the rockiest song on the album, with wailing guitar solos c/o Rougeau and Rockarts’ venomous vocals calling out a cat caller. “This song was very therapeutic to write,” Rockarts says. “Every single woman I know has had an experience where she’s been made to feel uncomfortable and unsafe while going about her daily life. It’s something that I don’t understand about cat calling culture: to make people you don’t know, usually women, feel so small and insignificant. I think our society is slowly inching along and improving, but we have a long way to go. I wanted to write this song to hold people accountable.”
Little Flower is also an exciting Montreal-New York cross-pollination by a tight-knit band that works together long distance (Nissen and Wright remain in living Toronto). Produced by Brooklyn-based, Montreal-bred Franky Rousseau, beds were recorded at Montreal’s Hotel2Tango with home-recorded overdubs by Rockarts and Rougeau in Montreal and Rousseau in Brooklyn. Brooklyn-based composer and pianist Dominic Mekky played piano and contributed sound design and arrangements for “Margaret” and “Golden Hour,” while Matt Rousseau (Franky’s brother) played synthesizer on “Vistas.”NYC-based multi-instrumentalist Levon Henry’s clarinet and sax take the breezy “Right Now” into Andy Shauf territory.
Little Flower will be out Spring 2020 on digital, vinyl and CD.
Recommended if you like: Feist, Andy Shauf, Bahamas, Alvvays, Laura Veirs
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