Ceremonials, the sophomore release of 2009 break-out band Florence + the Machine, is an extensive array of vibrant tracks brought to life by the sweeping vocals of lead singer Florence Welch, a lovably eccentric 25-year-old whose favorite pastime is “dancing down supermarket aisles.”
Welch envisioned Ceremonials as “more dark, more heavy…[and] with more of a whole sound” than her debut album Lungs, which is definitely apparent in the album’s final form. Upon first listen to the album in its entirety, it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish individual songs from the indisputably dark and heavy theme throughout the album, but gems gradually emerge. The album begins powerfully with “Only If For A Night,” which transitions from light trills and distant laughter into a leaden blend of piano and boundless vocals. It’s followed by the album’s lead single, “Shake It Out,” which juxtaposes the ponderous reverberation of an organ with Welch’s dynamic crystalline melody. The song is one of the catchiest on the album and manages to be upbeat while maintaining a sense of darkness, advising “it’s hard to dance with the devil on your back, so shake him off.”
Continuing on in Welch’s beloved dark vein, “What the Water Gave Me” and “Never Let Me Go” both deal with drowning, continuing the exploration of a concept that began with the track “Swimming” from the deluxe edition of their previous album Lungs. The first strikes deep from the start with poignant chords and has an Allison-Kraus-meets-Ophelia vibe throughout. The way the music mirrors the lyrics makes this one of the most impressive tracks on the album, with Welch’s voice lilting in waves and rising sharply when she sings “let the only sound be the overflow.” “Never Let Me Go” puts in mind wide-open undersea expanses with the lyrics “it’s peaceful in the deep/cathedral where you cannot breathe.” The track seems to be something new for Welch, reflecting on the band’s increasing popularity, in that its sound is more radio-ready: feature belting, polished female vocals and back-up choruses.
“Lover to Lover” is another experimental song with a sound that dives into your soul with full-bodied vocals and clanging, cheerful piano riffs. The latter half of the album features “Seven Devils,” a dark epic with a haunting, cyclic melody and “Heartlines,” an ecstatic journey propelled by a rousing drum beat, as well as the contrasting “Spectrum,” a radiant track inspired by rainbows and prisms. The highlight of the four extra songs on the deluxe edition is the bewitching “Strangeness and Charm,” which Welch says was inspired by a metaphor of “strangeness” and “charm” as “two sub-atomic particles… People only know they exist because we can feel their effects.” The sixteen-track deluxe album concludes with a demo version of “What the Water Gave Me,” which is diluted, more upbeat, although a less striking version of the original.
In Ceremonials, Welch singles out various elements from Lungs and expands on them, bringing about the synthesis of yet another musical creature that is all her own. While the album is at times too lengthy and misses a certain spark that would make it as satisfying a stand-alone as her debut, it’s a thrill to hear more from this truly original artist and her unconventional world.
Claire Mathieson is a junior at Barnard College and Features Editor for The Nine Ways of Knowing.