“And I did cartwheels in your honour. Dancing on tiptoes; my own secret ceremonials”
When you first sit down and listen to Ceremonials, there is a blissful moment when you realize you’re not in Kansas anymore. You’ve been transported to some strange and wonderful dreamlike location; where ghosts roam the streets, lovers embrace and break into song, and Florence Welch looks down upon you from her majestic tree. There is no other place like it. You want to be there. You want to keep Florence in your pocket and have her sing you lullabies. Or maybe, that’s just me?
With the follow-up to their 2009 debut album, Lungs, Florence + The Machine (once again) present us with a dazzling and strong record we will be talking about endlessly. Songstress, Florence Welch, explores the deepest of emotion with intense poetic lyrics and her passionate, powerful voice. Alongside, The Machine create a vigorous performance, giving life to the each and every song.
Ceremonials is a delightful departure from her first album, combining the best bits and pieces from what we loved so much about Lungs, and fusing those with something new and original. Nothing is as you expect. This album is a seamless puzzle of varied styles of music and voices, perfectly pieced together.
Now this is usually the part where I tell you my favorite song. Right? Nope. Sorry, it’s not going to happen. I refuse to choose my favorite song on the record, because every time I think I’ve finally found the one, I go back, listen to the album again, and pick another song altogether. Since I am super-excited to hear what you think of Ceremonials, I’ll leave this extremely difficult decision up to you. Head down to the comments and write down your thoughts. I’ll see you there in a few.
Meanwhile, how about a track by track review?
Only If For a Night: Florence’s girlish giggle and a fluttering piano sequence set the stage for the Pop and R&B inspired twisted storybook fairytale. As the dominating chorus sounds, deep, rich vocals guide the way for the contrasting soaring voice Florence perfects. Ghosts filled dreams, graveyards, and handstands; echo’s line the strains of pounding bass and percussion. Twisting alternative and mainstream, Only If For a Night is a pleasant surprise. I found myself singing the striking chorus at random more than once this past week. It’s somewhat different from what we usually hear from Flo, but it worked in her favor.
Shake It Out: As the first ‘official’ single released to the awaiting public, I’m sure we all have indulged in countless hours praising and listening to Shake It Out. It’s an eargasm, let’s be honest. The number one recurring comment related to the tune consisted of one word; obsessed. We hear a Church organ sound as Florence’s angelic voice sings. “I am done with my graceless heart, so tonight I’m gonna cut it out and then restart.” Oh so soon, thunderous drums accompany her and become this enormous celestial chorus. “Shake it out! Shake it out!” So you must, of course, shake it out.
What the Water Gave Me: It seems like forever since we got our first taste of Ceremonials, when fans were treated to a preview track. What the Water Gave Me, inspired by the death of Virginia Woolf, is one of the most remarkable songs selected for the album. It’s hard to accurately describe the character of the track. Lyrical beauty comes to mind. Florence’s voice remains soft and otherworldly for most, as the percussion swells, we hear the musical goddess reach up and trill her songbird vocals. “Lay me down. Let the only sound be the overflow. Pockets full of stones.” A mix of alternative and folk, What the Water Gave Me is flawlessly conducted.
Never Let Me Go: This soulful ballad can only be described as beautiful comfort; as if lying in a warm, luxurious bed, being sung to sleep by Florence herself. Beautiful stunning vocals reach out and caress, while you hear the gentle chant of “Never let me go.” Symbolic, lyrical refrains speak of regret and love; finding that place where you belong – in someone else’s arms. “And the arms of the ocean are carrying me, and all this devotion was rushing over me. And the crashes are heaven, for a sinner like me, but the arms of the ocean delivered me.” This song will stay with you, long after the music ends. It is one of the most stunning songs I’ve heard in a long while.
Breaking Down: Contrasting the booming voice we usually hear from Florence, breathy vocals influence the 80’s flashback tune, Breaking Down. Within also lies piano and harpsichord melodies amongst the signature 80’s Brit drumbeat. Now it took me a while to get used to, I admit. Though, the more time I spent listening, plus time spent deconstructing the lyrics, the more I couldn’t deny the appeal. Florence describes loneliness like a distorted poetic story, fearing what comes next. “I can see it coming from the edge of the room, creeping in the street light, holding my hand in the pale gloom. Can you see it coming now?” This track deserves multiple listens to fully understand the song’s intentions.
Lover to Lover: I can’t get enough of this Blues and 60’s style infused tune that feels like a street corner sing-song. With Florence’s signature powerhouse vocals, the song demonstrates another soulful performance from the singer. The repeating refrain is more than just a catchy hook and it’s hard not to immediately fall in love with the piano melody that brings this song to life. “Road to road. Bed to bed. Lover to lover.”
No Light, No Light: I will easily admit that the first time I heard this song (prior to the album release), I had the entirety of the lyrics memorized within an hour. I think this song was on repeat for at least a couple of hours a day, everyday, for a little under a week. Needless to say, it was an instant favorite. Beginning with a lively incoming drumbeat, the epic opening is released and followed by the soft and rough voice of Florence. The song hardly transitions from her lost and pleading voice to the magnetic choir voicing the thunderous “No light, no light in your bright blue eyes,“ and continues to the main event. “You want a revelation. You want to get it right. But it’s a conversation I just can’t have tonight. You want a revelation, some kind of resolution.” This is just one of the many highlights on the album.
Seven Devils: Gothic and dark, Seven Devils is a theatrical masterpiece that Florence sings the heck out of. The haunting song is a slow and melodic. The persistent, hypnotic piano can be heard even as the symphony of voices sing out. “Now all your lies will be exorcised. And we will find your sayings to be paradox. And it’s an even sum. It’s a melody. It’s a battle cry. It’s a symphony.” Florence’s vocals are truly extraordinary as the song plays out. As the moonlit night sets the stage for this ghostly folktale, Seven Devils is the darkest track on the record, but thrilling and distinct.
Heartlines: I don’t think I have ever wanted to give an actual song a hug before, until now. With a surprising mix of swing and tribal musical patterns, the empowering Heartlines demonstrates an anthem-like chorus. Fierce drums, horns, and ethereal background vocals. Florence belts out, “Just keep following the heartlines on your hand. Keep it up. I know you can. ‘Cause I am.” The song is insanely spectacular. No joking. Worthy to be blasted from stereo speakers, Heartlines will have you reaching your hand out to the heavens and singing along in no time.
Spectrum: From an eerie introduction, to a jovial disco dance-track, to a classical finish, Spectrum is an illuminating addition to the album. The Machine provide a relentless drumbeat, while Florence’s vocals take center stage. Her haunting voice rips through as she commands, “Say my name.” Our old friend, the harp, strengthens the brightened mood and closes the tale. There can be no doubt that this danceable tune is an unapologetic girl-power anthem earworm. You have been warned. “Say my name as every color illuminates. We are shinning and we’ll never be afraid again.”
All This and Heaven Too: “The words are all escaping me, coming back all damaged. I would put them back in poetry, if I only knew how.” In one of the most poetical and lyrical tracks on the album, Florence cries out to understand what we all question: love. “And the heart is hard to translate, it has a language of its own. It talks in tongues and quiet sighs and prayers and proclamations.” The song emanates a sweet and familiar feeling. A song to cherish and attentively pay apt attention to the words Florence writes.
Leave My Body: Dark and edgy. Jazz and gospel. Leave My Body is a sway worthy epic that will leave a permanent mark on you. It’s easy to clap your hands and sing rather loudly (You know you did) with the gospel styled chorus; speaking of leaving everything behind – changing for a brighter future. “I’m gonna leave my body (moving up to higher ground). I’m gonna lose my mind (my history keeps pulling me, pulling me down).” The track ensures an immediate instant replay and closes the awe-inspiring record.
Remain Nameless: The first bonus track on Ceremonials, Remain Nameless takes us to unfamiliar territory. On this new journey, we hear the thrum and thump of an electric beat – something we’ve never quite heard from Florence + The Machine before. The soft and slow steady rhythm is smooth. The vocals are clear. They call out to the listener, almost like a hymn, as Florence and the myriad of voices repeat “Call me when you need me. Darling believe me.” That has to be my favorite part of the electric tune. It’s somewhat irresistible to not sing along with the continued refrain as the solitary voices sing, then as the music expands. Remain Nameless will be a notable surprise for all of you avid fans out there.
Strangeness & Charm: After hearing the live recording of this song months ago, I was so excited to finally hear the studio version in all its glory. And I must say, it does not disappoint. Both recordings have something different and unique about them, and now that I’ve heard both, I can appreciate the subtle and not so subtle differences between the two. This studio version brings with it a new depth and a slightly faster beat. There is almost an electric quality to it as well. I just want to rock it out every time I hear this song. “The static on your arms it is the catalyst, for the chemical it burns. There is nothing like this. It’s the purest element, but it’s so volatile. An equation heaven-sent, that you’ll forever inject strangeness and charm.”
Bedroom Hymns: Currently, I seem to have an inability to stop listening to Bedroom Hymns. Contagious is one word I would use to describe this song. I can’t seem to stop the smile on my face that appears every time I hear the sexy and tribal influenced sounds. Religious and sexual overtones occupy the tantalizing lyrics. “This is his body. This is his love. Such selfish prayers and I can’t get enough.” Hand claps. The clack of the drum. The chorus’ memorable and singable ‘Oh’s.’ I dare you not to fall in love with Florence’s Bedroom Hymns.
Album Rating: A+
To purchase your very own copy of Ceremonials visit iTunes HERE
For more Florence + The Machine visit their official website HERE
What did you think of Ceremonials? Love it? Obsessed with it? What’s your favorite track on the record? What’s your favorite Florence + The Machine song? Tell me in the comments!