If you are going to purchase one album this week, it should be Florence and the Machine's newly released Ceremonials. The ethereal and powerful redhead has come out with a total stunner. The tracks are consistently catchy, beautiful, and incredibly inspiring. In fact everything about Ceremonials is big: big vocals, impressively loud instrumentation, a bold use of different musical traditions and techniques, all coming together to support the large, grandiose themes that she presents in many of her songs. The harmonies and rhythmic patterns she creates are effective in symbolizing the broad, almost operatic messages about the human condition that she relays through her lyrics about love, hope, death, sex, and violence.
The lead singer of the band is the 25 year old English singer Florence Welch. She came up with the name of her band as a teenager with Isabella "Machine" Summers, whom she played music with starting at a young age. The name was initially Florence Robot/Isa Machine. Florence is the daughter of a Harvard-educated Professor of Renaissance Studies, whose influence comes across strongly in Ceremonials.
Many of the songs on her new album explore themes associated with the Renaissance period: an interest in humanist ideas and the desire to uncover realism and human emotion in art, the fascination with folklore, a return to nature, and the flowering of art, religion, and paganism. For example, in her song "What the Water Gave Me" she takes a hymnal melodic variation and turns it into a rock song. The prevailing sentiment of the piece is a wild return to mother earth, nature, spiritualism, feminism. Although the song has an upbeat, rock spin, it also has a darker edge. Rumor has it that the track is actually about the novelist Virgina Woolf who drowned herself in the River Ouse.
Her voice takes on a slightly darker, more somber timbre in this piece as she sings "Lay me down / Let the only sound / Be the overflow / Pocket full of stones." Virginia Woolf filled her pockets with stones to drown herself. In a melancholy, velvety voice, Florence sings about mortality and the feminine connection to the earth. As the song goes on, the music only gets more and more intense, the song ending with a loud chorus of singers chanting the chorus accompanied by a rock out jam session. All and all one is left with an intense and emotional listening experience.
The best thing about Florence is that she seems to create her own folklore. She has a powerful aura that is accompanied by a forceful set of vocal chords that produce a loud, inspiring, and at times shrill voice. In many ways her harsh sound works in her favor, as it adds to the largeness and power of the album's overall sound. This does not mean, however, that her voice quality is not also extremely moving, and quite glossy and rich at many moments in the album. Another of her most promising songs is "Never Let me Go," which has a much heavier pop bent. In fact, she sounds a bit like Celine Dion on this track, but with darker, richer tones in her voice. Her voice changes rapidly in this piece from very glossy and sweet to harsh and strident as she sings "Breaking Over me," demonstrating her chameleon-like ability to change from rosy to edgy over the course of a single musical line.
And of course her single "Shake it Out," is catchy in its own right. This song is inspiring and anthem-like, reminding us all that sometimes we just need to shake it out - let go of the regrets that weigh us down. The song also has a bit of a Celtic or Irish folk song influence in its repeating major thirds and faster paced rhythmic sections. My personal favorite track on the album is "Only If for a Night." Florence's voice is strong and inspiring, but what drives the piece - what makes it such a successful piece -- is its rhythmic patterns. Florence creates an enormous amount of tension through syncopation and strategically placed rests. There is a gasp in the music, a loaded pause, and then the musical line resumes. All and all a superb album not to be missed.