Two years after the release of her debut album Lungs, Florence Welch is far from winded.

Florence + the Machine

Ceremonials
Universal Republic


For the band’s second album, Ceremonials, Florence + the Machine have joined forces once again with fellow Brit and award-winning producer Paul Epworth. The album sounds similar in many ways to the group’s first, which is to say it has an otherworldly beauty.

Flo forwent simpler garage-rock inspired tracks like “Kiss With a Fist,” instead elaborating on the grandiose and spiritual elements found in Lungs. While not religious, Florence discusses largely non-secular topics — to name a few, demons, devils and damnation, but also revelation and heaven. The album is practically a danceable sermon.

“What the Water Gave Me,” the first single released, is a sinister track with themes of death — more specifically the suicide of Virginia Woolf. It starts off low-key, a metallic drumbeat with a melancholy guitar phrase moaning in the background, which continues throughout the song. Florence’s voice is gothic and intimidating, ebbing and flowing in a fluid reference to the song title. She wonders in a deep breathy whisper, “Would you have it any other way?” A minute later the song is flooded with deluge of instrumentation while vocals surge down octaves in a torrential outburst.

But the mournful overtones of “What the Water Gave Me” are incongruous in comparison to “Shake It Out.” While Florence contemplates suicide in the former track, in “Shake It Out” she proceeds to advise everyone to simply shake out their demons. A youthful chorus adds in a “who-o-oa,” perhaps articulating its surprise at the sudden shift toward optimism. The song, like the majority of the album, has a rich, weighty quality to it.

The lyrics of “Shake It Out” are poetic as always but still relatable, much like the pop-inspired sound of the single. While Lungs was written as a girl-power response to a breakup, Ceremonials is an affirmation of Florence’s strength and independence even with a man in her life (yeah, she got back with her ex).

It’s easy to get carried away in the inflated nature of Ceremonials. Florence’s most memorable tracks of the album, however, are the ones that stray furthest from lavishness. In “Breaking Down,” she exposes her vulnerability, an eerily cheery piano accompanying lyrics centering on madness. In “Lover to Lover,” Florence muses on a loose lifestyle, admitting she has no chance of salvation. But she repeatedly shrieks, “that’s all right” — beautifully, of course, because Florence is never capable of uttering an inharmonic note.

Florence even dabbles in unabashed discordance in “Remain Nameless,” a track commanded by an electronic beat and unrelenting coolness. It starts slowly, a sense of unpredictability underneath its superficial tameness, but comes together in the end with Florence’s emphatic request for her darling to call her whenever he needs her. The track is clubbier than Flo fans are used to, but it shouldn’t be disregarded as mere experimentation with the electronic genre.

With that in mind, consider that the band almost went pop for its sophomore album, propositioned by various U.S. producers. But Florence explained her ultimate decision to reject the enticement of pop in a Billboard interview: “No. No. No. No. No! I can’t do that. This is too weird. I can’t just suddenly leave behind everything that made Lungs.” And for that, Florence fans may thank heaven or salvation or demons or any of the other inspirations for Ceremonials.

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