2020 Ambient #2: Ana Roxanne — Because of a Flower
At its core, Because of a Flower is a commitment to the self. The seven tracks that make up the record take the listener on a tender, meditative journey through gender, identity, discovery and learning how to love oneself, making for a profoundly personal listening experience. Ana Roxanne’s debut is so personal it could estrange listeners who don’t know her or share her experiences, but instead the record feels like it contains universal truth. To listen to Because of a Flower is like conversing with an esoteric being.
One has produced two Two has produced three These words mean that one has been divided Into yin, the female principle, and yang, the male principle These two have joined, and out of their junction has come a third Harmony The spirit of harmony As it condenses, produces all beings.
The untitled opening track introduces the record with the poem above, repeated like a mantra that breaks off into two voices, creating a psychedelic backdrop for Roxane’s philosophy. When two opposing principles come together, their amalgamation produces a new principle. While this dualism has the potential to cause friction, Roxane sees the two joining as harmonious. Ana Roxanne grew up in California in a tight-knit Filipino community and brought up in a Catholic household. Growing up she was introduced to 90s R&B through her mother, while her dad favoured classical and operatic music. As a child Roxanne sang in her church’s choir, developing a lifelong interest in traditional choral music, and in 2013 she travelled to Northern India to study Hindustani singing. It seems that Ana Roxanne has experienced these dualisms throughout her life, and yet they unite to produce something new entirely. Harmonious, rather than friction. ‘A Study in Vastness’ sounds like if patience, the noun, had a sound. It maps out a portrait of a lifetime, the slowness of evolution, through the inherently ambient qualities of choral music. Earlier this year I read this interview Cat Zhang published with Pitchfork, where Ana Roxanne discusses the “ambling trajectory” of her education, which took roughly a decade to complete, and how she tries to live slowly, to be present in the moment. She also discusses the work of the novelist Milan Kundera. Roxanne has explored his writing in her earlier work, on her debut EP ~~~, highlighting the question: “Why has the pleasure of slowness disappeared?” Roxanne develops the practice of slowness on Because of a Flower, especially on songs like ‘A Study in Vastness’. This song, and the quote from Kundera, has had an astute effect on me over the pandemic. I am particularly guilty of doing everything as quickly as I can. Sometimes when I am writing or creating art, I feel like I have to get this thing out of me in case I spontaneously die within the hour. When I read a novel I read great chunks of it at a time, over a short period, and entire poetry collections in one sitting. I can’t rest because I am not ‘creating’. I feel guilty for not posting regularly on this blog and for not using every single minute of not being employed or in education to be doing “something.” I know it’s a mixture of ADHD, capitalism, and working-class guilt. But this song reminds me that there is strength in tenderness, and that rest is an act of kindness to yourself. And what’s the point of reading or experiencing art, if you’re not giving it the space or consideration it deserves?
Since the beginning of the pandemic, I have lived in Bristol, my hometown of Llanelli, Devon and now, Cardiff. Cardiff already feels like my adopted hometown, although I am used to feelings of rootlessness. Everywhere I have lived or been I’ve carried music with me. Because of a Flower is a consistently supportive travel companion, whether I am walking a lap around the park next to my flat or trying to quell my social anxieties before meeting friends. On listening to this record, I am reminded of the Portuguese word ‘saudade’. Saudade is an emotional state of nostalgic and melancholic yearning for someone or something that one deeply cares for, but knowing the object of one’s longing may never be had again. What if the object of your longing is your past self? To look back and not recognise yourself, to feel the pain of separation. ‘Suite Pour L’invisible’ takes me on that journey, reminds me of what has been lost or become distanced. But the glistening chimes and cherubic synths of ‘- - -‘ invoke joy and excitement for the future. A lifetime with oneself, gaining understanding and love for yourself along the way.
As a whole, Because of a Flower is triumphant in transcending binaries, while reflecting on the process of transformation. The listener is encouraged to consider past pain and sorrow in order to overcome it, to find the joy on the other side of that pain. As an allegory for gender identity. Ana Roxanne beautifully expresses her intersexuality through this album, the pain and confusion, to acceptance, finding strength and love. An example of this is ‘Venus’, that opens with another soft spoken word piece that uses the transmutability of water, as an allegory for (gender) identity. The underlying soundscape of flowing water grows into a radiant ascending drone paired with hymnal introspection and twinkling synths.
Merging water, moves fluidly from one form to another… Forever changing form but not essence.
Roxanne’s ability to flow from sorrow to joy, through choral music to dream-pop, slow-core and even R&B, while exploring pain, beauty, gender and identity, is, to quote Phillip Sherburne for Pitchfork, “evidence of a remarkable ability to fuss disparate influences into a unique form.” To allow two principles to come together, and producing harmony from their joining. ‘Take the Thorn, Leave the Rose’ is a reminder of the importance of pain as a principle. Its languishing electric bass fading away to Bach’s Prelude in C Major, as performed by the castrati, Alessandro Moreschi in the early 20th Century. The slowed down recording, bathed in vinyl hiss and united with Roxanne’s faraway vocals, is a haunting yet beautiful mnemonic for pain and trauma that one has personally suffered, or suffered by ancestors. To me it’s like the song is saying, there is always the threat of violence, especially against LGBTQIA+ and POC people, so you might as well feel and give love, joy and empathy when and where you can.
Listen to Because of a Flower here. Please subscribe to be notified of new blog posts.
Further Reading: Cat Zhong for Pitchfork, 'The Radiant Slowness of Ana Roxanne' www.pitchfork.com/features/rising/the-radiant-slowness-of-ana-roxanne
Philip Sherburne, 'Ana Roxanne — Because of a Flower' (Review) www.pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/ana-roxanne-because-of-a-flower
Ann-Derrick Gaillot for Bandcamp, 'The Devotional Music of Ana Roxanne' www.daily.bandcamp.com/features/ana-roxanne-interview