Florence + The Machine: Ceremonials

Florence + The Machine
(Universal Republic)

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A lot has happened for Florence Welch since her first album, Lungs, was released. While initially the album was only embraced across the pond by UK audiences and by indie music fans state side, Welch found a place in the US mainstream aided in part by the inclusion of her song “Dog Days Are Over” in ads for the film Eat Pray Love. Nowadays, Welch has become a bona fide star in the US, playing awards shows and such events as Chanel fashion shows. This puts Welch in a new place, no longer trying to etch out a name for herself, she instead had to configure an album able to draw in the same critical and commercial success her previous album garnered (albeit gradually).

Ceremonials bears indeed a striking similarity to her debut, carrying her same signature taste for drama and operatic vocals, but this time they are delivered at a slower pace. While Lungs packed in such fast-paced toe tappers as “Dog Days Are Over,” “Kiss With a Fist,” and “Drumming Song,” Ceremonials doesn’t offer anything at quite as fast a pace. One of the album’s standouts, “Breaking Down,” comes close though. While the melody and vocals move at a slower pace, faster paced percussion helps to keep it from meandering. The slowness builds thankfully to a tightly wound refrain in which Welch laments, “I think I’m breaking down again.” The pace never becomes enough to fill a dance floor, however. Album opener “Only if for a Night” returns to Welch’s preference for dramatics with choir-like backing vocals and booming piano.

Welch’s vocals begin with delicate ethereal beauty on “Shake it Out” and soon gains weight as the percussion picks up. Welch mentions the weight she carries and then reassures herself that, “It’s always darkest before the dawn.” The song hits upon pleasing themes of optimism and catharsis. Her theme of optimism and encouragement in the face of adversity return again on “Heartlines” upon which Welch laments “Keep it up, I know you can/Just keep following the heartlines on your hand.” “What the Water Gave Me” moves at a slow, subtle pace, but Welch’s vocals and the accompanying organ music create shiver-inducing creepiness. Although Ceremonials revels in quieter moments, it still carries the same power as Lungs did, just with far more subtlety and polish. Those who were enchanted by this flame-haired chanteuse the first time around will not be disappointed.

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