I remember seeing Florence + The Machine at Coachella 2010 – they were performing on one of the side stages with a medium-sized crowd, even though it was almost a year since their first album had been released in their native United Kingdom. From that brief set and hearing Florence Welch’s overpowering voice, I knew they were destined for bigger and better things – but who would’ve thought that it would’ve happened so immediately and on such a large scale? All of a sudden it seemed that the British band was everywhere, from opening for U2’s worldwide tour to backing an ad on every commercial break to performing on just about every awards show out there. The success was well-deserved, as their first album was an impressive mix of soul and baroque rock with soaring vocals and arena-sized music.
The second album seems to pick up right where the first one left off, with the first three songs constantly building into an almost overpowering crescendo of sound. I predict that the first single, “Shake It Out,” will soon become as ubiquitous as “The Dog Days Are Over” from the first album (if it isn’t already). “What The Water Gave Me” seems tailor-made for performing on a festival main stage with the entire audience singing along. This quick tempo only slows down once it reaches the fourth song, “Never Let Me Go,” and even then only for a bit – “No Light, No Light” is right back to the booming sound and Welch’s dominating presence that defines their sound. That track and “Heartlines” are definitely my favorites on the album – in fact, “No Light, No Light” was just announced to be the second official single, so expect to hear much more of it everywhere you go soon. The remaining songs on the album, even the slower ones, seem to be building towards something before there’s an explosion of instruments and Florence Welch singing as if her life depended on it. The one track that seems a little out of place to me is “Remain Nameless” – starting with an almost dubstep-inspired beat and strangely muted vocals, it just doesn’t utilize the full strengths of the band and never really gets anywhere. The album closes out with “Bedroom Hymns” – starting slow before erupting in a climax of hand claps and harmonies that end the entire record on a high note.
The themes of love, loss, and death found floating throughout the first album are all just as prevalent on Ceremonials. There’s not a ton of musical growth here, but that’s not anything bad about the album – if anything, the band have higher aspirations than on the first and seem to be going for broke on just about every song, pushing their signature sound further and further until it seems to want to fall over the edge before safely returning back to comfort. Florence Welch’s frenzied singing carries them through the entire time as her voice rises over the madness, commanding the audience to listen. There are more instruments here – woodwinds, chimes, and strings – than on the first album, seemingly drawing inspiration from Arcade Fire’s playbook. It’s overall a stronger and more dynamic album than Lungs, and that’s saying a whole lot considering the awards and acclaim bestowed upon that one. I imagine the next time Florence + The Machine show up in Indio they’ll be commanding a bigger font, a main stage, and a much larger audience.