As Squirrel Flower, Boston native Ella O'Connor Williams creates a world of moody, sometimes celestial indie rock anchored by a magnetic voice as airy and smooth as it is powerful. She began releasing music while attending college in Iowa, developing a thoughtful and sparse sound rooted around her heavily reverbed solo electric guitar and vocals. A winsome mix of crystalline melodies and earthy textures, her first two outings found a small fan base and some critical respect as well as a deal with the Polyvinyl label. For her full-length debut, she and producer Gabe Wax (Adrianne Lenker, Palehound) opt for a more full-bodied approach, employing a rhythm section and some rough-hewn electric grit to help carry parts of I Was Born Swimming. Recorded between Boston and New York, Williams expands on the reflective, intimate tones of her earlier releases, presenting a sort of emotional travelogue as she searches for connections and a sense of place. The album begins appropriately enough on "I-80," the great transcontinental artery that connects her East Coast home turf with the Midwestern plains of her college days. Themes of escape and movement are stitched between these 12 songs, especially on highlights like "Headlights" and "Streetlight Blues," the former exhaling the mountain mist through a car window, the latter spilling lovelorn out into the city streets. Slow-moving and thoughtful, I Was Born Swimming thrives on its central idea of rootlessness, roving through moments of heartache, joy, wistfulness, and the myriad pangs of melancholy that accompany personal growth. Brimming with personal observations and subtly dynamic performances, Williams offers a strong debut.
AllMusic Review by Timothy Monger