Review : Florence and the Machine - Ceremonials
PitchforkWhen I first saw Florence and the Machine two years ago at New York's cozy and beloved Bowery Ballroom, leader Florence Welch's voice was simply too loud for the room. She sounded massive, but shrill. Overpowering. If the show took place in an X-Men movie, the wind gushing from Welch's lungs would have propelled several patrons smashing through the Bowery's back window onto Delancey Street. The next time I encountered That Voice, it was five months later, in the relatively gigantic Terminal 5 on Manhattan's far west side. And while that venue is often knocked for its booming, detail-abolishing acoustics, and concrete-slab atmosphere, it was a much better fit for Welch, who hopped, ran, and wailed while 3,000 giddy fans looked on, awestruck. For this band and this singer, nothing could be too big. Or so it seemed.
Growing up, Welch was met with stern eyes when she was caught singing her favorite hymns with a bit too much verve. Her unbridled talent is the type of thing producers of TV singing contests fantasize about. It's soulful. It's instant. It's blaring. On "American Idol", contestants like Welch are invariably deemed "quirky" and doomed to runner-up status. And though Welch is a more convincing Artist than even the best "Idol" has to offer, make no mistake that her voice-first delivery is perfectly tailored for a generation who grew up judging singers as much as they listened to them. Even the hopelessly hip crowd that showed up to see Welch at Vice's Creators Project event last month saved one of their biggest ovations for the moment when she held out one piercing note for an exaggerated period of time-- a primal sign of skill that banks on nothing less than sheer audacity.
The same can be said of Florence and the Machine's second album, Ceremonials, which can feel like Welch simply holding out a single note at top volume for an hour. On paper, the album takes a wise path. After trying out a few different producers and styles-- garage-pop; vampy twinkle-pop; and tribal, mystic-pop-- on her debut, Lungs, Welch settles almost exclusively on the latter for Ceremonials, bringing along producer Paul Epworth, who was so good at the mystic stuff on the first record, to oversee the whole thing. So what we get is Florence trying very hard to top the gargantuan drums and cascading harps and chest-thumping choruses of Lungs hits like "Cosmic Love" and "Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)" on damn near every song. Instead of Lungs' largely charming yet discombobulating diversity, Ceremonials suffers from a repetitiveness that's akin to looking at a skyline filled with 100-story behemoths lined-up one after the other, blocking out everything but their own size....full text
PrettymuchamazingTalking to Pitchfork a couple of months ago, Florence Welch promised Florence + The Machine’s sophomore album Ceremonials would eschew the disparate ideas and sounds found on her debut album Lungs and instead expand on the booming baroque-pop of her hit single “Dog Days are Over”:
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. With this record, I’ve been able to expand on the idea that I was hitting on towards the end of making Lungs.
The idea she was referring to, found on a number of Lungs tracks apart from “Dog Days,” is balladry made thunderous, pop songs as fortresses with impenetrable walls of sonics, tooth-rattling dynamics, and flights of theatricality fit for the Broadway stage.
Not only was Welch true to her word, her remarks didn’t accurately convey the sheer enormousness of her and producer Paul Epworth’s final product. Ceremonials pummels from the start and never retreats. It’s an ambivalence-free album, one that’s sure to create dual camps of haters and true believers. I am firmly and enthusiastically in the latter camp, as much now as I was after my first listen. Ceremonials is a stunning record, but no amount of proselytizing will convince the naysayers. They can be damned.
Ceremonials is the second pop record this year to embrace bombast and High Drama without reserve. The other, Lady Gaga’s Born This Way, took me some time to absorb, making my review of Born This Way appear hasty in retrospect. I faulted Gaga for what I thought was an overblown sound and general lack of good taste. It turns out, the fault was mine. I’ve since been won over by the album, which has become one of my favorites this year and in my opinion one of the great pop albums in a long time. Florence Welch seems to agree, as Ceremonials is the melancholic younger sister of Gaga’s exuberant Wagnerian-rock masterwork. Welch’s songs, which have dance structures at their center minus the requisite beats, will no doubt be treated to four-on-the-floor remixing, thus making the comparison all the more obvious. (The disco-influenced “Spectrum,” however, is ready for the club, as is.)...full text
Guardian.One day a critically acclaimed, commercially successful pop artist will aspire to make a record that sounds small. In a room with perfect acoustics a minimal cohort of musicians will lay down a set of barely-there tracks, vibrant with feeling and pristine instrumentation. They will only break from their masterpiece to watch some pigs fly past the window.
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Florence Welch's second album more closely resembles a banshee convention in a wind turbine. It should come with a scarf. There was a reason her first album was called Lungs: Welch gusts hard under her own steam. But on the gale-force Ceremonials the vocals often sound multitracked, and are augmented by a chorus of friends who bay along on songs such as "What the Water Gave Me" (unleashed in the summer) and "Shake It Out" (unveiled more recently), the lead tracks from Ceremonials.
The production is high-church – harps, bells, shimmers, strings and keyboards that seem to breed over the course of the album. The cresting choruses are never less than heroic. As an arty eccentric, Welch is sometimes lazily compared to Kate Bush. Here, though, that tenuous link works. The album's boofing drum sound comes straight out of Bush's 80s output; on balance, a neat trick.
From all this maximalism we can infer that the album's makers have high hopes for its success. Pop's current logic imagines that big-sounding records ought to sell big; that ambition is just another word for lots of post-production timesheets. Certainly, having shifted an impressive 3m copies of Lungs, the stage is set for Welch to flounce on to an international stage already softened up by fellow south Londoner Adele. She is no longer that kooky bohemian from the Camberwell squat scene. She is playing with the big girls now.
There is, of course, nothing inherently wrong with putting a lot of music all in one place – Arcade Fire do it all the time. Indeed, "Breaking Down" suggests that Welch has been listening attentively. The last time she borrowed this enthusiastically – from Gang Gang Dance on "Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)" – she had to give the band a writing credit....full text
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