CHICAGO-based music label Kranky has been around for approaching three decades now, predominantly producing experimental ambient music, with a focus on drones in particular. The latest release from this label, a label that has previously brought us the likes of Stars of the Lid and Labradford, is Ana Roxanne’s haunting debut album, Because Of A Flower.
Never straying too far from the album’s firm foundations in ambient music, Ana Roxanne has still incorporated a blend of classical, new age and Hindustani singing to create a transfixing collection of meditative soundscapes. With an uncanny ability to transport you away from daily life through mesmerising vocals and synths alone, the album is one that you will find yourself returning to when in need of some escapism.
“One has been divided into yin, the female principle and yan, the male principle, and these two have joined and out of their junction has come a third.” This opening spoken word piece sets the tone for the album as Ana introduces the theme of gender and identity through layers of speech over a comforting lo-fi crackle. She has said that these themes and her portrayal of them within Because Of A Flower were informed by her own identity as an intersex person, with the album itself dedicated to: “intersex & trans people: the brave souls of the past, my dear friends today, and those who have yet to enter our world.”
The ideas of existing outside of the conventional, and of transcending boundaries, that of gender in particular, are reflected across the album. There’s the simple blurring of sounds and lyrics, through to the merging of songs which, like the album’s running thread of water, seamlessly flow into one another to create an album that is not only beautiful in its individual fragments, but as a coherent whole too.
From the introductory poetry of “Untitled”, the album then drifts into the ethereal beautiful of “A Study In Vastness”. Here Ana manipulates space and sound to conjure up a vast, sprawling soundscape composed almost entirely of her own voice. Sliding layers of vocals blur and blend together, steadily moving the music forward with all the beautiful and majestic power of a glacier as her voice carves out its own landscape. It’s a landscape that you will soon find yourself falling into as this hypnotic piece of music takes you away entirely.
Next is “Suite Pour L’invisible”, which opens with ambling guitar lines, deep and rich, before the vocals are layered over them as they slip between drone-like textures and lyrics. However, the lyrics aren’t a priority here; the spiralling, drifting tones of the vocals alone are enough to hypnotise you. It’s like a spiritual awakening set to music.
Because Of A Flower continues to bubble along smoothly as it seeps into ‘—’, which consists of chimes and tones that ring out above the muted rumble of synths, leaving faint trails in their wake.
Next is “Camille”, a real standout that marks a shift away from the soothing, meditative lullabies of the previous songs. Instead, there’s a drum machine, static hiss and a darker tone.
Reminiscent of Portishead and with a vocal line that has a Julia Holter ring to it, here Ana’s vocals linger above the steady patter of the beat, soft and delicate as they spiral like clouds of smoke into the otherworldly soundscape. From this mist, Roxanne then conjures up a sample; a snippet from a film with two women arguing in French, discussing letting go of someone and musing on the subject of death. It’s effective and touching, adding another layer of emotion to a song that seems to unfold naturally and with an intuitive ease. This statement, of course, undermines Ana’s talent as a songsmith, yet it is a testament to her skill that the music feels so effortless and instinctive; a genuine emotion seeps through every part of this album.
Then onwards to “Venus”, which blends vocals with spoken word, all over the comforting sound of gentle splashes of water. Beginning like a meditation with Ana’s own spoken verse, it is no stretch to read her description of water as a metaphor for gender and identity as she proclaims: “Water knows no boundaries”. Then comes a single, low, rumbling note that cuts through the sounds of the running water, powerfully resonating as though it has come from the heart of the earth itself. Next, the choral vocals, mesmerising as ever, soar above the rumble and the steady soothing splashes before they’re substituted for electronic chimes. The tones flicker gently, elusive and just out of reach between the layers of vocals as “Venus” builds to a rich, textured peak. It’s a beautiful coming together of sounds; natural, human and electronic.
And finally, “Take The Thorn, Leave The Rose”. It opens with a twang of a brooding guitar melody that crackles above the reverberating notes as they twist and turn before tangling together with the vocals. These wistful vocals soon coat a different sound though as a tender piano melody slides into the spotlight above lo-fi hisses, all while the song continues to meander along, the piano jumping from note to note.
And with that, Because Of A Flower draws to a close, rudely jolting you away from the blissful worlds that Ana Roxanne has created and pushing you back into reality.
It is, however, an album that you can and will find yourself returning to again and again as a means of escape and reflection. A real gem.