Florence + The Machine

Island, 2011


REVIEW BY: Melanie Love


Florence Welch follows on the heels of Adele and Lady Gaga as one of the year’s most excellent stars, all of whom are bringing some stylish, substantial girl power to the music charts. But Florence + The Machine in particular has a dark, brooding beauty that is singularly their own, and their latest album solidifies the promise of their debut, 2009’s Lungs. Of course, the majesty of Ceremonials owes much to Welch, whose soaring vocals know how to work the listener’s every heartstring.

The album launches out with a bang: dreamy pianos and Florence’s penchant for haunting lyrics combine on “Only If For A Night,” a strong opener that hooks you from the start and sets the strange mood into play. And then comes first single “Shake It Out,” which has been steadily building buzz. It’s absolutely triumphant and catchy, too; I haven’t been able to get the line “And it’s hard to dance with a devil on your back, so shake him off – Oh, whoa!” out of my head all week. Florence’s lyrics are just gorgeous throughout, subtly ominous and always well measured. Lucky that this life-affirming track is so likeable, because it’s bound to be played to death like “The Dog Days Are Over” was a few years back. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Where Lungs was a scrappy younger sibling to this record, full of heart but a little rough around the edges since the band were just upstarts, Ceremonials is out of this world. Every song is a baroque jewel, bedecked with choirs for backing vocals, mystical harps, and references every which way to devils and ghosts and ghouls (oh my!). Florence herself has remarked about how this album represents a step forward from the band’s debut: “With Lungs, I hit on the sound I wanted about halfway through making it. There were so many different influences, and the differences between a song like “Kiss With a Fist” and “Dog Days” are huge because I’d written one when I was 17 and one when I was 21,” she told Pitchfork.

That sense of unity is definitely felt on Ceremonials. Every song centers around a similar sort of mood, and yet each one is uniquely evocative. Another buzzed about track is “What The Water Gave Me,” a nearly six minute epic which spurns a lover to a watery grave backed by lush instrumentation. The harmonies are as beautiful as they are creepy, and the slow burning build of the trickling guitars and powerful drums makes for an utterly explosive chorus.

The first half of the album in particular blends together so seamlessly, from the subdued, almost hypnotic ballad “Never Let Me Go” to the jangling rhythms of “Breaking Down,” in which joyful violins and a shambling tempo making even an impending breakdown sound pretty and enjoyable.  

In fact, there’s not a dull moment to be found on this disc. “Seven Devils” is its own little haunted house of creepiness (you can almost hear the full moon and the howling wind in the instrumentation) and yet it’s endlessly catchy. It’s the type of song that is Florence + The Machine, and the fact that this band has cultivated such a rich, personal and easily identifiable sound so early in their career is incredible.

What is most excellent about Ceremonials is that it can be listened to as an album rather than just as a backdrop for the standout singles. Every song here is glorious, and it’s a fun experience to just immerse yourself in the out-of-this-world imagery and soundscapes. This is easily one of the best releases of the year, and sure to be a high point in Florence + The Machine’s future illustrious career.

Rating: A

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© 2011 Melanie Love and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Island, and is used for informational purposes only.