Review: Emily Rockarts, “Little Flower”

Emily Rockarts - Little Flower

During last month’s installment of our recurring  Snappy Singles feature, we introduced “Stay,” the new single from indie singer-songwriter Emily Rockarts.  Weaving her stunning vocals around a lively assortment of ringing guitars and synth-sounds, this indie-pop tune quickly earned my attention, and left me craving for much more new music from this relative newcomer to the Canadian indie scene.  Originally from Toronto, ON, but now residing in Montreal, QC, that wait is finally over, as Emily Rockarts officially releases “Little Flower,” her debut full-length album today.

After a period of self-discovery during a song-writing residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity in 2018, Emily returned to Ontario with life-changing plans in mind.  A self-confessed extroverted introvert, she bid adieu to both her office job and life in Toronto, and made a strategic decision to head east, one that allowed this cool and comfortable sharp-eyed observer to refocus and devote more time to establishing her musical career.  Having written album tracks “Right Now,” “Without You,” and “Vistas,” during her residency, she also refined many other songs that ultimately shared the journey to Montreal, and found their way onto this debut album. Joined by long-time friends and bandmates Dan Rougeau (guitars), Soren Nissen (bass) and Ian Wright (drums), Emily entrusted the final touches of her debut album to New York based (but Montreal-bred) producer Franky Rousseau.

Being overly familiar with the indie-pop sounds and style of “Stay,” an up-tempo track with a slight tongue-in-cheek take on the end of a relationship, I was taken completely by surprise when encountering “Get It All Back,” the opening track from the album.  With a hauntingly somber opening instrumental, Emily’s equally slow and eloquent vocal delivery never falters, and renders goosebumps from the offset. “Pushing all the pieces into the parts that will not fit / Giving extra pieces into what you cannot fix.”  Cue the slight pause at the two minute mark, before the musical intensity and vocal vulnerability blossom, with eerie guitar wails to accompany her muted, distant cries before a gentle fade.  Less than four minutes into the album, and Emily Rockarts has my complete attention.

Vulnerability is certainly one of the core themes of this debut album, with songs that explore many interpersonal issues surrounding relationships, heartbreak, love, loss, and simply being in the moment.  And while Emily cites Andy Shauf, Patrick Watson and Feist as some of her primary musical influences, there are plenty of nods here to artists from beyond the Canadian scene to be found.  I, for one, detect hints of Kim Deal’s vocals in “Stay,” and surely I am not alone in hearing similarities to Aimee Mann during the breezy “Right Now,” a track that shares the Andy Shauf vibe thanks in part to the stunning clarinet added by NYC-based multi-instrumentalist Levon Henry.  “Right Now” also demonstrates Emily’s natural ability to deliver lyrics in an almost conversational tone, found once more, and prominently during “Margaret,” a folk-like classic character song that touches on struggles with commitment.

The title track, “Little Flower,” finds Emily slowing things down once more, with the instrumentation muted and her vocals front and center.  “Little flowers growing deep roots through the ground / Staying patient, growing taller, without sound / Little flowers that you miss are still as sweet / Pay attention with eyes open watch your feet,” are lines delivered with a relaxed pitch (shades of Bjork), and with a splash of melancholy.  The closing track, “Golden Hour,” will definitely tug on your heartstrings, with her personal and pensive reflection on the impact of Alzheimer’s and Dementia upon a relationship between two life-long partners.  “Losing hold of mind and grace / I repeat and repeat again / I am slowly, being erased / Don’t know my name but you know my face,” she offers with wrought emotion, and that vulnerability from being witness to loved ones transitioning from remembrance of time spent together to where memories unwillingly fade.

Of the nine solid tracks offered here, it is impossible to ignore a momentary thematic shift from vulnerability to empowerment, as found in “Stranger,” an autobiographical composition born from harassment Emily encountered from an unknown assailant one time during a subway confrontation.  “Walking through people, looking down, instead of into your eyes / Keep quiet, pass by / Hey stranger, you just sit there soaking up all of the beauty that your see / And you make it ugly.”  Do not expect a muted approach here, as Emily willingly amplifies her message with wailing guitars and powerful vocals in response to the unwanted actions of her aggressor.  “This song was very therapeutic to write,” she shares. “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. I wanted to write this song to hold people accountable.”  “I’m a stranger, stranger, I’m a stranger to you / You’re a stranger, stranger, you’re a stranger to me.”  An impressive debut from a rising new talent, and highly recommended listening.

The British guy that crossed the ocean and crash landed in central Pennsylvania (to quote Greg Keelor, “And I wonder what am I doing here?”). As the youngest of four siblings, exposure to music from a very early age nurtured my passion and appreciation for many musical genres. Continuing to discover some amazingly diverse and talented musicians based in Canada, I gravitate to live music experiences and remain devoted to spreading the word about such a vibrant music scene.

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