NEW RELEASE / IN THIS (PANDEMIC) TIME
Because Of A Flower by Ana Roxanne CONTENTS
- INTRO: Deep musical background and the ambiguity of gender inform a confident ambient sound
- PLAYLIST: Full album on Spotify and YouTube
- REVIEW: From Pitchfork
BECAUSE OF A FLOWER BY ANA ROXANNE
Deep musical background and the ambiguity of gender inform a confident, ambient sound
The assured and unhurried musical pace set by experimental ambient musician Ana Roxanne is a good fit for these pandemic times. Listeners are increasingly turning to the calming balm of classical, opera and ambient music according to a recent report from Chartmetric, a company which maps streaming trends. And the trends show a growing audience for those genres as well as children’s music since COVID-19 swept the planet.
Born to Southeast Asian parents in Los Angeles, Ana Roxanne’s extensive musical education illuminates her compelling second collection – Because Of A Flower – released November 13. She describes her process as beginning with “a drone element and a mood.” Unlike much ambient work, Roxanne adds her clear soprano vocals to minimalist – but musically involved and thematically informed – compositions. The album also includes two spoken word pieces.
A Lifelong Student of Music
Roxanne’s early music lessons came from her mother’s cd collection of R&B divas and as a devout Catholic church choir girl. Fast forward to 2013 when she trained in India with voice coaching in classical Hindustani singing which inspired further musical studies at Oakland’s highly regarded Mills College.
In 2018, Roxanne publicly announced that she was intersex. While her first EP, ~~~ , privately released in 2015 and rereleased more widely in 2019, veiled her gender identity, Because Of A Flower is more upfront.
This is from online magazine Resident Advisor: “Because Of A Flower’s spoken-word introduction, a quote from the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu, places intersexuality and harmony side-by-side:
“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.” Via Lao-tzu, Roxanne simultaneously alludes to how a compound of simple sounds can make complex ones, and how intersex people defy gender dualism.”
It’s a musician’s sound that first draws us into their space. Once we’re there – and engaged – the invitation is to explore. Ana Roxanne’s Because Of A Flower offers much more than what first meets the ears. As her audience, we are invited to hear an evocation of a beautiful and musical, lovingly articulated personal journey.
Check out the excellent Pitchfork review of the album below to learn more about what’s going on in the seven tracks of this collection.
Stay tuned and enjoy,
21 November 2020
The YouTube playlist starts with a cover of Smokey Robinson’s Ooh Baby, Baby which Ana Roxanne performed live in the Los Angeles Union Station in 2019. What follows is the full album of Because Of A Flower.
The Spotify playlist doesn’t have the live performance and features the album track by track.
BECAUSE OF A FLOWER
The California ambient musician’s debut LP pulls from new age, dream pop, Medieval choral music, and Hindustani singing for a hypnotic and tender meditation on gender, identity, and self-love
by Philip Sherburne /Contributing Editor / Pitchfork / November 16 2020
When the California ambient musician Ana Roxanne reinterpreted “I’m Every Woman”—a Chaka Khan disco classic famously covered by Whitney Houston in 1992—as “I’m Every Sparkly Woman” on her debut EP in 2015, there were multiple levels of meaning nestled inside its rippling oscillations. Most immediately, the song nodded to the ’90s R&B that Roxanne’s mother and aunts sang at family karaoke sessions after moving from the Philippines to the U.S. Her selection also suggested something about the way Roxanne hears the world: The swirling textures of Roxanne’s song echoed the atmospheric introduction to Houston’s version, as though Roxanne were finding commonalities between genres seldom mentioned in the same breath. Roxanne had more personal motives, too. When she was writing “I’m Every Sparkly Woman,” she told Bandcamp Daily, “I saw [it] as a testament to my femininity and empowerment as a woman.” But a few years later, after coming out as intersex, the meaning changed for her. “Now, I am not sure how I identify, but at least now I feel confident in that unknown,” she admitted. “When I perform that song now, it feels as though I am calling upon the confidence and beauty of the divas, and exclaiming that I love myself, whatever gender I may be.”
Questions of gender, identity, and self-love frame Roxanne’s Because of a Flower, the follow-up to her debut. On a short, untitled spoken-word piece that opens the album, she envisions transcending binaries: “Yin, the female principle, and yang, the male principle… have joined, and out of their junction has come a third: harmony.” Her multi-tracked voice is split and processed into higher and lower registers, and she layers overlapping phrases as though reciting a round. Against this kaleidoscopic backdrop, she offers an elemental truth: “The spirit of harmony, as it condenses, produces all beings.” Drawing upon ambient, new age, dream pop, Medieval European choral music, and Hindustani singing, the album that follows feels like an emanation of that same spirit.
As on her debut, Roxanne’s cool, clear soprano provides the centerpiece of most of these songs. Where “I’m Every Sparkly Woman” sketched lines between ambient and R&B, “A Study in Vastness” draws out the ambient quality inherent in choral music. The song is composed entirely of layers of her own voice; over a looping pedal tone that extends from start to finish, she wordlessly sings a descending figure in a minor key, adding soft microtonal counterpoints that slip between the lines of the stave. The resulting drone sounds faintly like the ethereal airs of the 12-century mystic Hildegard von Bingen; it feels like bathing in moonlight.
Even when Roxanne adds more elements to her music, it sounds just as pure. In “Suite Pour L’invisible,” she sings wistful, wordless tones over patiently braided guitars before returning to the idea of duality: “Endless sorrow, endless joy, endless sorrow/I’ll hold your joy/I’ll hold your pain.” But lyrics are rarely the focus here; her singing is so slow, the patient arrangement so hypnotic, it’s easy to be swept away by the sound of her voice alone. Her music’s plaintive qualities often evoke Grouper (“Suite Pour L’invisible” sounds like a hi-def cousin to Ruins’ “Holding” or “Call Across Rooms”), and her billowing textures often recall Julianna Barwick. There are also affinities with the goth-adjacent dream pop of Cocteau Twins, This Mortal Coil, and Dead Can Dance, refracted through a new-age lens. “Venus,” a quietly ecstatic hymn to the constancy of the self, pairs radiant vocal harmonies with splashing waves and a reading from an astrological text; it sounds like vintage 4AD reimagined for sound-healing therapy.
Roxanne changes gears with “Camille,” whose muted vocal tone and pitter-pat drum machine are reminiscent of Portishead and Everything But the Girl, while the instrumental “- – -,” a sparkling assemblage of DX7 chimes, shows that Roxanne doesn’t need her voice to enchant. She closes the album with another wordless piece, “Take the Thorn, Leave the Rose,” where her voice is close to a sigh. The album’s darkest song, built around brooding electric bass and guitar, it nods both to classic slowcore and also doom metal, while sounding not quite like either—evidence of a remarkable ability to fuse disparate influences into a unique form.
Halfway through the song’s six-minute run time, it shifts: The guitars fade out, and in their place we hear Bach’s Prelude in C Major, BWV 846, from the first book of The Well-Tempered Clavier, joined by Roxanne’s voice, sounding ghostly and far away. Swathed in hiss, the piano comes from a slowed-down recording of Alessandro Moreschi—one of the last of the castrati, and the only one known to have been captured on wax—singing Charles Gounod’s “Ave Maria” early in the 20th century, more than 100 years ago. In his day, Moreschi’s heavenly voice supposedly inspired audiences to shout, “Long live the knife!”—a cry of adulation shot through with an intimation of violence. Today, threats of violence are familiar to many intersex people, and Roxanne has spoken of her determination to be an advocate for intersex kids and teens, many of them subject to nonconsensual surgeries in childhood. Inspired by both the trauma of the castrati and the transcendent beauty of their singing, “Take the Thorn, Leave the Rose” ends the album on a note both melancholy and tender—a gorgeous distillation of the empathy that guides Roxanne’s music.