Every once in a while, a gem of an album appears out of thin air and encapsulates the space around you. Through its brutal honesty, time freezes and enables you to empty your mind in a vacuum of wonder.
You behold such unheard, unimaginable waves of sound. They tug and lull at your inner cochlea in a cocktail of contradictory feelings: glee, shame, confusion, ecstasy! O Muses, you implore, where did such an album come from? A black hole? Your little cousin leaving it in your car stereo?
Ultimately, its origin is irrelevant. What is important is that such a record refuses to just accept who you are—rather, it challenges your intellect, musical sensibility, even your morality. Such a recording contains the ability to transform your definition of music, radically transform your relation to the world, or at the least change who you are at a particular time.
In just under ten minutes, Flower Girl’s latest release, Fairy Queen, does exactly that.
This is not to say that the Brooklyn band’s Fairy Queen is the only album to have done so. One such record was White Light/White Heat by The Velvet Underground, which taught me that music can tell a story, regardless in this case how violent or sexually deviant this story may be.
The album was loud, distorted, discordant, honest and violent, like a dying animal. Instantly, it became an ideal I both sought in life and in music.
Another such record paramount to my personal development was the misogynistic Hooray for Boobies by The Bloodhound Gang. I now consider it unlistenable, but it taught me the lesson that music could be offensive, vulgar and lack any educational or artistic merit. For an example, listen to their track, “A Lapdance is So Much Better When the Stripper Is Crying.” The conclusion I reached was that many, upon listening, would think society would be better without this album existing; but that gives the album utility in preserving freedom of speech. Thus, it is as crucial to society as any masterpiece could hope to be.
But some albums walk the line between the innovative and the vulgar. Fairy Queen, the newest album by Brooklyn’s Flower Girl, inhabits a golden mean between the aforementioned White Light and Hooray, and finds itself innovating through abstraction, taking the vulgar and transforming it into semantic ammunition for deconstructing our social reality; it’s essentially an effort that uncovers a knowledge of language, and highlights how we as humans interact with words, symbols, and ideas.
Flower Girl also begs not be taken seriously. Their name alone evokes a cultural cliché of a world long gone: the 60s. Their name might be a misnomer, for as far as this journalist can tell, no girls are in the band. But this seemingly contradictory choice for a band name is exactly what Flower Girl attempts to achieve in their music: initial confusion, and what Zen Buddhists call satori, or, a newly gained perspective for looking at things in the world.
Flower Girl provides this new perspective through the lyrical concept of their music. Underneath the textural surface of absurdist and scatological humor, we find a universe of profound philosophical meaning. Let us take the profane and symbol-rich “Jimmy Carter,” the second track off Fairy Queen. To a discordant looping of acoustic guitar, perhaps a glockenspiel and intermittent pulses of fuzz, the song begins: “Aquafina finest water/Polly wolly doodle/Like a lamb to the slaughter/Polly wolly doodle.” From this explicit promotion of the product Aquafina, Flower Girl make a statement against corporate endorsement. We can imagine as an unsigned band from Brooklyn, they have nothing to gain from such product placement. Nevertheless, they give Aquafina the most coveted real estate of the song: its beginning. The comparison of the product to a lamb at the slaughter is an ominous warning, but to whom? Flower Girl leaves it to us to decide.
More clear of a picture, however, is the song’s next line, “The big bad wolf was a small good martryr/Polly wolly doodle,” which references the character of the wolf in the popular folklore “The Three Little Pigs.” In the story, the wolf is marked as chief villain—necessarily bad, and never good. As attempting to eat the pigs and himself being eaten the wolf embodies the moral of the story: do not be violent, do not trick, and above all, do not be the bad wolf, or else you too will inevitably end up being cooked alive in a boiling pot, and subsequently eaten by your victims.
By asserting that the wolf was a “small good martryr,” Flower Girl reverses the moral lynching of the wolf, and affirms that he was not big but small, and not bad but good in his martyrdom. His death, then, acted as a totem, or a warning sign for all of us to blindly accept and obey the traditional morality imposed upon us from childhood. And by challenging and reevaluating the earliest moral story which many of us were raised on, Flower Girl encourage the listener to both reevaluate the social structures in society, the influence such structures have over our lives, as well the role music has in creating a new perspectives through which to see the world.
Finally, we arrive at the namesake chorus: “Polly Wolly Doodle/I can fart on Jimmy Carter… fart on Jimmy Carter.” What seems like scatological humor also serves as a semantic awakening from the graveyard of historical symbols. Jimmy Carter, president of the United States from 1977 to 1981, has long been exempt from mention in contemporary music, let alone civil discourse. The reincarnation of the symbol of Carter as namesake for the song, even if something to be farted on, is Flower Girl’s way of reawakening the past, showing the absurdity of our antiquated memories (for many of us, meaningless, for we weren’t exactly alive during the presidency of Carter) and playing a game with the present. By doing so, Flower Girl challenges the listener to interact with time in a new way, and ultimately realizes that they themselves are interwoven in a rich world of time dilation and distortion intimately linked to the act of listening.
Ultimately, the brilliance of dressing up such revelations in the poetic form of the nursery rhyme coupled with simple instrumentation and a children’s mallet is unparalleled in music.
Do not think, however, that Flower Girl is exclusively entrenched in the world of semantics, philosophical quandaries and experimental music forms. They also provide a moral by which to live on. On the track “Rundown Sundown,” which closes the album and features the most traditional instrumentation and narrative style (acoustic guitar and vox) an old-time traditional ragtime progression is followed and it sounds straight from a Blind Willie McTell record.
In it, we imagine Fairy Queen to be addressing us as chickens at a farm and any time at risk for slaughter. They declare “You can run little chickens, with your heads on tight/It’s better than getting into fights.” However, this precautionary advice of safe living comes at the expense of creative or sexual reward: “But who’ll see your genius?/And who will tug your penis?/If you hide in the bushes every night?” This is a message to musicians and to listeners alike: if you fear death, and if you fear creating your art, you cannot live life to your fullest potential. Ultimately, escape from the cycle of death and creation is futile, hence the refrain: “You can’t rundown the sundown/And you won’t restrain the morning light.”
However, accepting these conditions leads to both a recognition and celebration of life, even if in the seemingly contradictory form of negation through death: “But you can come with me/ kill the hatching little chickens/And watch Mr. Rogers all night.”
It’s a stark, curt statement that asks you to listen and consider your surroundings in just a moment’s time.
Fairy Queen might only be about ten minutes long, but don’t forget, according to Zen Buddhism, enlightenment can be achieved in but an instant.
You can access Fairy Queen, as well as the rest of Flower Girl’s philosophical discography, at flopflopflop.bandcamp.com.
Article by Dylan Wexler