Last year, on the heels of her debut I Was Born Swimming, Ella Williams spoke about one of the four elements. “I’d say my relationship with water is one of being in awe and being terrified by the power of it,” she said. “The power of there being too much of it, and also of there being none, in relation to climate change.”
The Massachusetts singer-songwriter takes this concept a step further on her new album Planet (i), where she confronts all elements in the form of natural disasters. Whether she’s facing a brutal flood or a devastating tornado, the album is a collection of songs rooted in gritty honesty and slow-burning weariness. “I’m not scared of the water,” she announces on “Desert Wildflowers,” a sparse track that puts her steady vocals front and center. “The rain is my parent and I am the daughter.”
It was probably challenging to follow-up I Was Born Swimming, a deliciously dense record that radiated intimacy. Gems like “Headlights” and “Seasonal Affective Disorder” were drenched in delicate, heart-wrenching beauty — and these songs are in short supply of that. But Williams makes up for it with tracks that showcase her sharp songwriting over maximum guitar distortion, whether it’s the stunning opener “I’ll Go Running” (“I’ll be newer than before/I’ll be something that you’ve never seen”) or “Hurt a Fly” (“You know I could never hurt a fly/Unless it wasted my time”).
Williams named the album after a fictional planet humans will eventually relocate to after destroying Earth. It’s a new world we’ll see as a refuge, but one that will ultimately have the same outcome as our current home — will we ever learn from our mistakes? Williams fits right into the ranks of artists that contemplate this question, from Weyes Blood to the Weather Station. While Lorde’s upcoming LP Solar Power embraces the natural world, Planet (i) is merely asking us to open our eyes. “Don’t let it pass,” she sings on “Starshine,” the meditative closer. “Don’t let it wither.”