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Squirrel Flower


Tomorrow’s Fire

Less than an hour south of Chicago, along the shores of Lake Michigan, sits the Indiana Dunes, a
protected expanse of shoreline recently designated a National Park. When Ella Williams first
visited the Dunes, she was awed by the juxtaposition of its natural splendor within the
surrounding industrial corridor of Northwest Indiana. “Every time I go there, it changes my life,”
she says, without a hint of hyperbole.“You stand in the marshlands and to your left is a steel
factory belching fire and to your right is a nuclear power plant.” Across the water, Chicago
waits, its glistening towers made possible by the same steel forged here. For as long as she’s
been making music, Ella Williams’ songs have been products of the environments they’re
written in, born out of the same world they so vividly hold a mirror to. This environment is
where her magnetic new album, Tomorrow’s Fire, lives.

The music Williams makes as Squirrel Flower has always communicated a strong sense of place.
Her self-released debut EP, 2015’s early winter songs from middle america, was written during
her first year living in Iowa, where the winter months make those of her hometown, Boston,
seem quaint by comparison. Since that first offering, Squirrel Flower has amassed a fanbase
beyond the Boston DIY scene and released two more EPs and two full-lengths. The most recent,
Planet (i), was laden with climate anxiety, while the subsequent Planet EP marked an important
turning point in Williams’ prolific career; the collection of demos was the first self-produced
material she’d released in some time. With a renewed confidence as a producer, she helmed
Tomorrow’s Fire at Drop of Sun Studios in Asheville alongside storied engineer Alex Farrar
(Wednesday, Indigo de Souza, Snail Mail). Williams and Farrar tracked many of the instruments,
building the songs together during the first week, and then assembled a studio band that included
Matt McCaughan (Bon Iver), Seth Kauffman (Angel Olsen band), Jake Lenderman (aka MJ
Lenderman), and Dave Hartley (The War on Drugs) lending their contributions.

Before Tomorrow’s Fire, Squirrel Flower might’ve been labeled something like “indie folk,” but
this is a rock record, made to be played loud. As if to signal this shift, the album opens with the
soaring “i don’t use a trashcan,” a re-imagining of the first ever Squirrel Flower song. Williams
returns to her past to demonstrate her growth as an artist and to nod to those early shows, when
her voice, looped and minimalistic, had the power to silence a room. Lead singles “Full Time
Job” and “When a Plant is Dying,” narrate the universal desperation that comes with living as an
artist and pushing up against a world where that’s a challenging thing to be. The frustration in
Williams’ lyrics is echoed by the music’s uninhibited, ferocious production. “There must be
more to life/ Than being on time,” she sings on the latter’s towering chorus. Lyrics like that one
are fated to become anthemic, and Tomorrow’s Fire overflows with them. “Doing my best is a
full time job/ But it doesn’t pay the rent” Williams sings on “Full Time Job” over careening
feedback, her steady delivery imposing order over a song that is, at its heart, about a loss of

Williams cites artists like Jason Molina, Tom Waits, and Springsteen as fonts of inspiration for
Tomorrow’s Fire, musicians who knew how to write into the mind of a stranger, who could tell
you the story of a life in under four minutes. “The songs I write are not always autobiographical,
but they’re always true,” Williams says. Nowhere is Springsteen heard more clearly than on
“Alley Light,” an electrifying song narrated from the perspective of a down-on-his-luck guy
whose car is fated to die any day now and whose girl just wants to escape. There’s a vintage
sheen to it, but “Alley Light” captures the very familiar feelings of loss that come with living in a
21st century city, where you blink and the storefronts change. Williams notes, “It’s about a man
in me, or a man who I love, or even a man who is a stranger to me.”

The album glides effortlessly over emotional states of being, lightness and heaviness.
“Intheskatepark,” written in the summer of 2019, four years later sounds like a dispatch from a
bygone world. The scuzzy pop production nods to Guided By Voices, as Williams sings about
crushing under summer sunshine. “I had a light,” Williams repeats mournfully on “Stick,” her
voice at once aching and powerful, a sense of rage fermenting as the song goes on, until it
explodes in the second half. “This song is about not wanting to compromise, just being at the end
of your rope,” Williams says. “Stick” harnesses that exasperation and turns it into a battle cry for
anyone who is exhausted but feels like they’re not working hard enough, who had to get a job
they hate to make rent, who lost their light and can’t seem to find it again.

Tomorrow’s Fire might sound like the title of an apocalypse album, but it’s not. Tomorrow’s
Fire references the title of a novel Williams’ great-grandfather Jay wrote about a troubadour,
named for a line by the Medieval French poet Rutebeuf, a troubadour himself: “Tomorrow’s
hopes provide my dinner/ Tomorrow’s fire must warm tonight.” Centuries on, the quote spoke to
Williams, who describes the fire as a tool to wield in the face of nihilism. Tomorrow’s Fire is
what we take solace in, what we know will make us feel okay in the morning, how we light the
path we’re walking on.

Closing track “Finally Rain” speaks to the ambiguity of being a young person staring down
climate catastrophe. The last verse is an homage to Williams’ relationship with her loved ones —
‘We won’t grow up.’ A stark realization, but also a manifesto. To be resolutely committed to a
life of not ‘growing up,’ not losing our wonder while we’re still here.

Video & Press
  • High Road Artists on Paste Magazine’s 50 Best Albums of 2023

    [Paste Magazine] Congratulations to the following artists for making the list! boygeniusJess WilliamsonL’RainMcKinley DixonMitskiRatboysSquirrel FlowerSweeping PromisesThe Lemon TwigsYo La Tengo Read full article here.

    read more

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