As is the case with the best psychedelic pop, you never really know what’s in store for you during a listen of Pearl & The Oyster’s Flowerland. One minute, you might be listening to acid-tinged synthesizer and shimmering guitars. The next, you’re treated to a sitar jam, lush orchestral arrangements, or maybe even some honky-tonk piano riffs.
It might all be a little mad, but for the duo of Juliette Pearl Davis and Joachim Polack, the madness is the method — and it’s a delightful madness, at that.
The third album in the duo’s Florida-themed trilogy, Flowerland conjures up sun-drenched golden beaches, warm ocean waves, palm trees waving lazily in the breeze, and all of the other usual idyllic imagery that one associates with the Sunshine State — with (thankfully) ‘nary a Florida Man in sight to ruin the spell. And that would probably be enough, especially as folks are restless to go somewhere — anywhere! — following a year-and-a-half of COVID. (And lest you think Flowerland was intended as a response to COVID, the album was actually finished before the pandemic’s start. So chalk one up to synchronicity.)
The duo’s soundscapes are certainly delightful and worth losing one’s self in. Imagine, if you will, Stereolab or Broadcast were they more inspired by bossa nova, Tropicália, and rum runners than Marxism and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. But what ultimately sells me on Flowerland is Davis and Polack’s earnestness and imagination, which shines through in each one of the album’s fourteen songs.
“Soft Science” is a cheeky back-and-forth between a couple, with one partner imploring the other to leave work behind and join them at the beach (“Look the sun is out/You shouldn’t stay inside/It’s real bad for your health”). No drama here, just a winsome request to step outside and soak up some rays. “Treasure Island”’s lyrics are filled with delightfully mundane details — birds sunning themselves, broken seashells, indigo clouds — that evoke a more real, more hidden Florida as opposed to tourist traps and gated communities. Or as Davis puts it, “The water’s clear and so shallow/Nothing could ever spoil this show/Everything has a special glow.”
The album’s title track might be its most outré moment, with Lewis singing as an alien who has crash landed in Florida and is now trying to take in their surroundings (“All the people getting tanned/Looking for treasures in the sand”). But of course, Florida’s charms prove too much and she decides to settle down: “Watching the dogs bark at a kite and all the seabirds taking flight/I’m far away but it’s alright/I guess I’m staying here tonight.” Meanwhile, the haunting “Evening Sun” explores the darker side of being stuck in a paradise where time seems to stand still and life feels increasingly aimless (“I’m feeling numb, maybe I should lie down/Act like a tourist in my own hometown”).
But eventually, even Florida’s golden beaches and warm temperatures prove not enough for Pearl & The Oysters. And so Flowerland concludes with “Rocket Show,” in which Davis and Polack sing of leaving the solar system in search of brighter places whilst accompanied by analog synths, trilling piano melodies, and Dr. Demento-esque sound effects. “We’ve heard of places with endless dawns/That’s where we belong,” sings Lewis, before leaving listeners with one final request: “My fellow Earthlings/I wish you well and hope you break the spell/Fly safe and farewell.”
Due to its frothy and trippy nature, it’s easy to dismiss Pearl & The Oyster’s as being of little consequence. And — confession time — that was how I initially felt. But something kept pulling me back to the album. Before too long, I found myself caught up in the duo’s playful melodies and winsome lyrics, and imagining my own stretch of golden, sun-dappled sand, a cool drink in hand, and nothing to do but relax, empty my mind, and contemplate the waves.