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Florence + the Machine’s Ceremonials is our first Album of the Month of 2012. There is more of a gothic tilt to the songwriting and production, both of which can be attributed to producer Paul Epsworth, than on Lungs. Heavy-laden reverb and multi-layered vocal tracks, which include multiple tracks of Flo along with members of the Machine, may be up to the preference of the listener but they do emphatically state what this band is about and how they wish to be seen. In short, the album’s opening track “Only If For A Night” states emphatically and plainly: this is not Adele.
Midway through the album, “No Light, No Light” fully realizes the gothic bend of record—with some art history irony for those who remember that the main intention of gothic art is to expand the use of the light in a work; no doubt that Florence’s mother, a professor of Renaissance Studies, creeps into her musical mindset. The song is not as self-contained with electro-pop riffs as some of the others. Layered vocals and effected drums give way to a warm organ and dancing harp lines which create space and expansiveness for Florence to command “You want a revelation/you want to get right/but it’s a conversation/I just can’t have tonight…you can’t choose what stays and what fades away.”
The anthem-like “Heartlines” is equally as personal as gets for Florence: “just keep following the heartlines on your hand…cause I am,” she sings as if to suggest that Ceremonials doesn’t as much pick up where Lungs left off as it does continue the lifelong attempts to make that great enduring work. Florence + the Machine’s music doesn’t easily lend itself to terms like “concept record”—a finely absurd term if you ask me—but their work as a whole does seem to follow an overall path towards personal and therapeutic songwriting pushed through a filter of catchy melodies and hard-hitting, but not over the top, composition and production.
The album finishes with “Leave My Body” in which the gothic returns with full force in the opening lines, “I’m losing blood, I’m gonna leave my bones/and I don’t want your heart it leaves cold,” forgetting the ornamental melodies of Lungs entirely for stark and enduringly abstract lyrics. From here, the song toes and dances around the line between the harshness of death and the release it can offer: “I’m gonna leave my body/move it out to higher ground/I’m gonna lose my mind/but history keeps pulling me down.” Dark it seems, the song is if nothing, uplifting. Death isn’t given as an option but as a metaphor for individuality. And in the specific comes through the universal: “I don’t need no husband, I don’t need a wife/I don’t need the day, I don’t need the light.” At once relatable and seemingly worlds away, Florence + the Machine establish themselves as a force to be contemplated with Ceremonials.