November 8, 2011

Test Spins: Ceremonials

Print More

When the U.K.’s Florence + The Machine invaded U.S. shores at the 2010 MTV Music Video Awards, America instantly fell in love with the ethereal red-haired starlet. It was easy to understand why: singer Florence Welch boasts one of the best female voices in music today, and her down to earth yet quirky stage presence was a welcome change in the dance-crazed U.S. market. Basically, Florence was interesting, with ghoulish yet majestic lyrics that begged introspection. On her sophomore album, Ceremonials, Florence has toned her unique sound into a cohesive, yet commercialized package. While Ceremonials is a solid and cohesive effort that often borderlines on perfection, it also comes at the expense of Florence’s original quirkiness, found in first album Lungs, which made her interesting in the first place.

On album opener and standout “Only If For A Night,” Florence comes out strong with some of her most piercingly direct, effective lyrics. “Only if for a night, and the only solution was to stand and fight,” Florence battle-cries as she belts above a loud and epic sound-scape. immediately following is second single “Shake It Out,” another tour-de-force epic with inspiring lyrics and a killer chorus. Florence sings of shaking off the devil on her back and moving on from the past, combining more commercial lyrics with supernatural undertones in all the right places. It is easily Florence’s best song yet, and probably her defining “pop” moment. The following track and first single, “What the Water Gave Me,” is more subdued, starting as a dark and brooding mid-tempo, but eventually caving in and bursting into a cacophony of sound resembling a devilish hoedown.

Like these tracks, the rest of the album is structured on an effective, although occasionally overproduced formula — sonically strong backdrops to complement Florence’s ethereal vocals, with more direct choruses aimed at pop sensibilities. Future third single “No Light, No Light” finds Florence calling out to a soon to be ex-lover. “No light, no light in your bright blue eyes, I never knew daylight could be so violent,” Florence emotionally croons in the massive chorus, although leaving not much to the imagination. “All This And Heaven Too” shows a desperate Florence begging to understand love, unusually bright and something that would seem at home on any current pop album — yet Florence’s unparalleled voice and emotionality elevates the record. Highlight “Never Let Me Go” is both lovelorn and urgent, and a strong contender for a future single. Nevertheless, it is somewhat of a cliché song — the chorus is the same as the title — and something you would not expect from the same Florence that created Lungs.

However, there are a few welcomed surprises and moments that are also pure Florence. Experimental track “Remain Nameless,” most likely a result of the collaboration Florence supposedly worked on with melancholy rapper Drake, is unlike anything she has ever done. A welcomed diversion from the overproduction of the rest of the album, the track is lightly electronic influenced and haunting.  Florence’s more overt gothic and ghostly imagery is finally found in songs

“Seven Devils” and “Leave My Body,” which both feature Florence dealing with a lover likened to a demonic possession. Unfortunately, like the majority of the record, overproduction often marginalizes the lyrics and their impact as a result. What made Lungs such a great album were tracks such as “The Girl With One Eye” and “My Boy Builds Coffins,” which were instrumentally sparse, yet contained quirky and interesting lyrics that commended attention without loud production.

Despite these qualms,  Florence has truly found her niche in Ceremonials, toning her penchant for in rousing choruses and ethereal sounds into a cohesive record. As a result, the album is more consistent than the varied styles of Lungs, but also less engaging as songs tend to blend together. There is no Kate Bush-esque “Kiss With a Fist” or the acoustic baroque sound of “Dog Days Are Over” to stand out. The commercialized overproduction of the record also obstructs understanding lyrics at times, but nothing live concerts will not fix — and Florence puts on an outstanding show. Nevertheless, Ceremonials is a great achievement and certainly one of the best albums of the year. Simply put, if Lungs was an amazing album of collective styles, Ceremonials is an amazing album of a cohesive style. Both are nearly perfect in their own way, as Florence has once again proved herself to be one of today’s greatest songstresses.

Original Author: Matt Samet