The Ophelias – Crocus
Baroque Pop | Indie Rock
When a harsh winter nears its end, crocuses are one of the first signs of the coming spring. While the cold frosty mornings still linger, but before the budding leaves on the trees unfurl, these flowers are among the first wave of new life. And when it’s been a long and bleak season, that little flower can make a world of difference. When the world gets dark sometimes you forget what it was even like to feel the sun upon your skin; you resign yourself to the world being dreary and downcast forever. But sometimes all it takes is one small reminder of better things to come to cling onto and get you through that final stretch. In fact, when I’m at my lowest, I often find that it’s the littlest things, the tiniest motes of joy and beauty, that end up tipping the scales and keeping my head above water. When you’ve endured months of grey skies and barren branches, it’s hard to understate the power that even just one little flower has to inject life and colour into your world.
With their album Crocus, Ohio quartet The Ophelias offer that same glimmer of hope, while also offering a wider view of the more sombre surroundings to provide some context and contrast. In the record’s open and relatable take on heartbreak and the struggle of moving on, we find the lyrics reflecting some of the pallid stillness of winter. How losing such a close connection can leave your life feeling empty, and how you can struggle to believe the promise of brighter days round the corner (“Things that make me feel better, Will hurt me eventually, And the people I trusted, Will worm their way out of the scene” on ‘Sacrificial Lamb’).
That said it never oversteps into being a maudlin break-up record, rather tending to look back through a nostalgic lens with a mix of longing and regret. Wishing in hindsight to have savoured the little things (“I regret never celebrating smaller victories that we saved, I would do that part over” on ‘Neil Young On High’), and trying to smooth over the jagged edges of a broken heart (“I know you loved me more than you said you did” on ‘Biblical Names’). In many ways it dwells on the lingering connections rather than the ones already broken. The few remaining ties that you can’t bring yourself to sever and the forlorn hope they’re enough to pull you back together. In clinging on to what was lost (“I hope I’m always a phone call closеr than you thought I would be, And I hope that you are happiеr now but I hope that you dream of me” on the title track) you get instead of the closure of a clean break, a sense of your heartstrings being drawn out thin like stretched wires refusing to snap.
The flower that breaks through the frost on this album lies in it’s instrumentation. While there’s an abundance of indie records that utilise strings to flesh out their soundscapes, few bring them forward into the spotlight to the extent that Crocus does. Andrea Gutmann Fuentes’ violin work adds that hopeful and uplifting element which elevates the whole experience and offers a cohesive thread. Whether it’s through more subtle elegant weavings on ‘Neil Young On High’, the soft soaring upward spiral that closes ‘Vapour’, providing a picturesque backdrop for tracks like ‘Spirit Sent’, or taking centre stage in the chorus of album highlight ‘Sacrificial Lamb’. The violin feels a key part of the album’s identity as it brings a thin sliver of colour to a greyscale landscape of heartache.
The album’s cohesiveness does sadly act as a bit of a double-edged sword. It makes it so Crocus is best experienced as a whole, however the album starts to drag by the last couple of tracks as it runs out of creative steam. Most of the highlights lie on the A Side, and while the last two tracks ‘The Twilight Zone’ and ‘Vices’ offer more filled out arrangements, they comes across as more cluttered walls of sound and lack the little flourishes and nuances of earlier tracks. While it’s frustrating that Crocus doesn’t quite stick the landing, it’s by no means a deal-breaker. Full of bittersweet charm, there’s plenty of beauty to be found here to pierce the gloom.