By Valerie Dunn
Elm Staff Writer
When Florence Welch, the Brit responsible for the musical spectacle, Florence + the Machine, set out to compile a follow-up album to her acclaimed debut, “Lungs,” she faced a daunting task. With such singles as “Dog Days Are Over” and “You’ve Got The Love”, Florence’s first album established a very high standard for the Indie band to meet. “Lungs” filled eardrums with powerful explorations of love, violence, death, and life. It established Florence and the Machine as a band sincerely different from the expected.
“Ceremonials,” the sophomore album of Florence + the Machine, released last week, continues this tradition with a deeper understanding of chaotic elegance.
If “Lungs” gave us a breath of eclectic fresh air, “Ceremonials” pulls us under water and cleanses our troubled spirits. The new album is unified by a curiously compelling theme of spirituality. Of course, Florence does not limit us to one strand of emotion. Instead, we travel a realistic journey of the heart, one that swirls with “Seven Devils” but also insists that we “Shake It Out.”
With only her voice and the unique help of her Machines, Florence draws us into startling darkness and thrusts us into blinding light. There is a constant struggle between illusions and enlightenment raging blissfully in “Ceremonials,” and the listeners emerge the victors as we witness the dazzling combination of honesty and complexity.
“Ceremonials” gives voice to the soul. As is characteristic of her genius, Florence abandons lyrical syntax in favor of emotional outcries. The instrumentals swallow not only the vocals, but the listener as well. Yet Florence bellows and the Indie-loving world listens because, somehow, through the seemingly nonsensical lyrics and dissonant melodies, Florence achieves an emotional coherence that has proven itself rare in popular music.
Though the soulful undertones of “Ceremonials” unifies the album more certainly than the haphazard spectrum of emotional explorations in “Lungs,” the songs that comprise Ceremonials still ring beautifully on their own. “What the Water Gave Me” is particularly memorable with its melancholy organ and eerily placed percussion. “Heartline” allows us to hear the sweeter side of Florence as she examines the subject of love without straying into clichéd territory. But the desperation that surges happily through “Only If For A Night” makes the album’s opening song the most impressively Florence + the Machine-esque.
Florence is a singer, and a stirring one at that. But she is also a poet, a dreamer, an artist. Passion echoes through her songs like the haunting vocals that chant behind her choruses. It is easy to become lost in the music of Florence + the Machine, but it is a pleasurable escape.
“Ceremonials” heightens the necessity of this musical escape and plunges us farther into the surreal universe as conceived by the spectacular British band.
“I want my music to sound like throwing yourself out of a tree, or off a tall building, or as if you’re being sucked down into the ocean and you can’t breathe,” Florence remarks on her website. “It’s something overwhelming and all-encompassing that fills you up, and you’re either going to explode with it, or you’re just going to disappear.”
“Ceremonials” gives the eager listener just that, music capable of dancing with passion.