Ceremonials, by Florence + the Machine

53-ceremonials

Released October 28, 2011

1 hr, 12 min, 9 sec

(Excuse iTunes’s idiocy in the track listing; its auto-management of my music is not playing nice.)

During the Lungs era, Florence + the Machine partially traded on the novelty of their unique sound, particularly the harp, an instrument that very rarely ever makes an appearance in pop music. If anyone could pull it off, it would be Florence Welch and her ragtag, ever-changing collective of session musicians, anchored by collaborator Isabella Summers. Though Lungs was not built around the instrument, the harp and the band’s wide range of other unusual instruments created an instantly recognizable sound and style for the group, allowing iconic single “Dog Days are Over” to become a radio staple for years after the album’s release.

Lungs was the sound of a musician and band unchained, free from expectations and pressures, as one might expect of a debut album, though its music flirted with darker sounds and concepts, sometimes subtly, sometimes overtly. By contrast, Ceremonials basks in gloom and melancholy, tackling more serious and emotionally resonant themes and musical motifs in its songs. Ceremonials is the product of an older Florence Welch, taking her band in a more bombastic musical direction. It’s easy to hear that on the album – every track feels wider, more open, more resonant. Welch’s distinctive voice threatens to engulf the listener, as layers and layers of her vocals and other backing vocals build on each other, forming a wall of sound across most of the album.

Welch’s band expands as well, its instrumentation no longer content to sit in the back as Florence stands at the forefront. Welch described the album’s sound as a mix of “chamber pop” and soul, and this is clear upon first listen. Ceremonials is, in many ways, a sermon held by Welch, loud and in control, as she sings from a primarily personal standpoint, of relationships, of power, of escape. Welch’s voice is frequently mesmerizing, so powerful that the words she sings melt away, leaving behind another instrument to blend in with the rest.

One frustrating thing, however, is that Ceremonials is another victim of something I brought up briefly in my post on Born This Way, in that Ceremonials also comes as a “deluxe” edition that only comes with bonus tracks that are otherwise perfectly at home on the album. This time, at least, the tracks are not perfectly sequenced throughout the standard edition; instead, they are all tacked onto the end of the album, as they should be. But this shouldn’t be a thing that happens. It’s ridiculous. It’s an excuse to mark the price up for suckers like me who just need those four extra songs because they should come on the regular fucking album.

Except I’m even stupider than that, because I bought this fucking album twice. I pre-ordered it on iTunes, and then saw the CD in Target and bought it because I already had Lungs on CD and having a format mismatch irks me to no god damn end. I am the reason the music industry is what it is today. I am the sole reason.

(Maybe that’s a bit of an overreaction.)

Ceremonials is a powerful album, very much worthy of inheriting the splash that Lungs made upon its release, despite the lack of a ubiquitous single in the vein of “Dog Days are Over.” Indeed, Florence + the Machine feel like they have fallen off the face of the Earth (despite the release of two singles since Ceremonials, both as tie-ins to films), with no follow-up in sight, despite being three years removed from Ceremonials. It will be a hard road for Florence + the Machine going forward, as they no longer have the momentum of a successful album to release a follow-up on, even if it comes out in 2015. Whatever may come, it will be strong, it will be unusual, and it will hopefully be worthy of the legacy that Lungs and Ceremonials have built.

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