Florence + the Machine’s sophomore album, Ceremonials, is a musical force of nature. Pulsing beats reverberate while frontwoman Florence Welch’s tornado vocals whir madly around the eye of the storm’s cooing choral influences.
The album follows Florence + the Machine’s 2009 album, Lungs, keeping the same affinity for melodrama but showcasing how Welch’s voice has evolved, becoming more full-bodied. Ceremonials blends gospel, rock and soul influences to create a hauntingly romantic sound that simultaneously spooks and soothes.
The beginning of “Strangeness and Charm” is ignited by hand claps that become the pulsing heartbeat of the song, carrying the listener through electronic waves and Welch’s otherworldly vocals that chant and echo lyrics, “Feel it on me love.” However, a bridge of fluttering harp strings and anarchic wails distract from the ethereal and cathedral-worthy resonance of the track.
The chanting continues on “Shake It Out,” an inspiring single about leaving your regrets behind. Welch belts out, “It’s hard to dance with a devil on your back/So shake him off,” making this more than a song you can’t help but sing along to, but an infectious anthem with which to start the day.
Quintessential Florence + the Machine powerhouse vocals take over on “No Light, No Light” as Welch juxtaposes fragile lyrics about watching the light drain from her lover’s eyes with a fortitude of punching vocals and pounding drums. The pulverizing beats take a moment of silence while Welch blasts a showy 13-second note that only substitutes one kind of loud with another.
However, Welch doesn’t rely on full-throttle vocals for single “What the Water Gave Me.” The first verse eerily whispers lyrics over metronome-like jingling, as if Welch is letting the listener in on a secret afterthought. With lyrics, “But oh my love, don’t forget me/I let the water take me,” Welch dramatically channels her inner Ophelia as she sings about letting overflowing water take her away from earth and the chorus’ chilling vocals echo like a prayer sung at her funeral by a chamber choir in a candlelit church.
The chorus of “Leave My Body,” features yet another choir and, in turn, loses its charm on this track. Rock and gospel come together as Welch soulfully croons about leaving her physical body for a more spiritual life. Despite the formulaic chorus, the spooky and tense verses prove Welch doesn’t need to belt it out to make a statement with her voice.
Welch redefines powerhouse vocals as she plunges into lyrics that make you think and powers through beats that make you want to move. From the first subtle tremor to the final thundering roar, Ceremonials is the storm you can feel coming, proving that sometimes bigger is better.
Printed on Tuesday, November 8, 2011 as: Florence's sophomore success relies on strong vocals, beats