Sunday, 6 November 2011

Review: Florence + The Machine - Ceremonials

 Since the release of 2009's Lungs, indie songstress Florence Welch and her backing band that is The Machine have pretty much brought art rock to the forefront of mainstream music and as a group have become a household name, generating overwhelming approval from much of the British public and frankly from the rest of the world. The only people who do criticize are the proper art rock fans, who will complain about the group taking elements of the genre and giving it a more mainstream influenced polish which the art rock equivalent of death metal fans being critical of groups like Suicide Silence or Job For a Cowboy. Or not. I suppose the accurate names for this group of people who criticize Welch's music in that sense would be "hipsters". So looking at new album Ceremonials, it's clear to see that the group continue what has made them so loved in the past, wether it will shut up the small demographic who complain of their mainstream sound is less likely.

 As a pop album, Ceremonials is pretty fantastic and certainly a cut above the rest of world of mainstream music which has pretty much descended into an endless void of blandness and repetitiveness. The sense of darkness the group have been known to stir up is conveyed effectively in the haunting opening Only If For a Night and Isabella Summers' gentle synthesized backdrop of Never Let Me Go manages to stir a very bleak and doomy atmosphere that certainly manages to chill.
 There's also plenty here that will appeal to the kind of listeners who want their music more catchy and danceable, from which the pop inspired element really emerges. Shake It Out and Lover to Lover both succeed in carrying a sense of upbeat positivity as pounding drumbeats from Chris Hayden create a catchy and danceable rhythm. A sense of warmth is also found in No Light, No Light and All This and Heaven which are probably the epitome of feel good music, which is genuinely enjoyable. Needless to say, the vocals of Welch elevate this feeling in all the songs, be it a feeling of joy, melancholy, coldness or as an overall attempt to be haunting, Welch's ethereal banshee wails, soft more chilling moments, and graceful warm vocals all succeed in characterizing Ceremonials as the songs intend to be and really manage to give the album a further sense of beauty.
 My hipster-esque criticism of the album will come in a manner that will have a sound of extreme cynicism to it, but it is a manner of harsh truth. Florence + The Machine are lucky that they managed to become such mainstream names and such regulars on mainstream radio. Because of this, their more creative and and charming sound can be heard by many whose music taste is much more... narrow-minded. In that sense, as long as the group are able to make a musical sound that is pretty and pop inspired, which also manages to have a dark and quirky edge (so let's throw in some atmospheric synth backdrops and harp-playing) and doesn't sound like anything else on the radio (really not that difficult) they will remain successful. One gets the feeling that if they had never came across the extreme mainstream success that they have, they might have just been known of in the world of art rock. Though not the genre I have the most knowledge about, I imagine they wouldn't get very far in that world and would just be viewed as a group with nothing new to bring to the table. My minor delve into what else the genre has to offer has given me performers who possess a far greater sense of dynamism and ability to create atmosphere than what Welch has to offer, found most recently in St. Vincent's Strange Mercy and various tracks from Deerhoof, to name... two.
 So, if you don't mind a mainstream influence in your music, then Ceremonials is not an album that should be written off at all. It shows Florence + The Machine keeping with their creative and fresh creative indie rock rather than taking a turn for the poppier and making music which possesses real soul and grace. Ceremonials is a clear sign that the name of Florence Welch is not one that is going to be forgotten any time soon.

 Florence + The Machine's Ceremonials is out now via Island Records. 

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