Posts Tagged ‘vocals’

And I’m Damned if I Do and I’m Damned if I Don’t

December 29, 2011 - 10:30 pm 2 Comments

I got on the Florence + The Machine boat a little late; in fact, I only listened to Lungs in anything more than passing this year.

In something like two weeks, last.fm informed me I’d racked up over 200 plays.

It would be an understatement to say I liked it. In fact, I love Lungs. I can put that album on and just listen over and over again, singing into a hair brush. But what’s more than that, I can listen over and over again quietly, appreciating every little nuance. There are only two songs I ever skip past, and if you must know which, they’re I’m Not Calling You a Liar, simply because I hear it every time I beat Dragon Age II (it’s a lot of times, just trust me on this one), and You’ve Got the Love, because I think it was a horrible choice to end the album on (strictly speaking, I don’t skip this one, I just stop the album at the end of Blinding because the end of Blinding would have been a perfect freaking ending, okay?).

I’m not feeling the same way about Ceremonials.

Let me, at first, dissect this album from a vocalist’s point of view, since there are two things I went to school for: one of them was writing, and one of them was singing. Bear with me here.

There are more than a few places in Ceremonials where Flo sounds utterly flat. Don’t get me wrong: it happens, especially with such an ambitious style of music. But I can’t ignore it. There’s a point in Hurricane on Lungs, toward the very end, where the note she’s holding goes totally sour and I cringe every time but the song is so good I just go along with it. Like I said. It happens. But it happens a lot in Ceremonials. There’s an off note or two in Shake it Out. There’s one in Breaking Down. There are a few in Only if for a Night. Cringe cringe cringe cringe cringe. I’m not criticizing Flo’s vocal abilities; I have no place to do that. What I’m saying is that the production of the album feels rushed, or sloppy somehow. It feels a lot less careful than Lungs felt.

Perhaps I shouldn’t compare the two albums, strictly, but I’m going to again when I say that Ceremonials doesn’t feel as clever as Lungs. Ceremonials has some great moments, some great lyrics, some great melodies, and there are plenty of hooks and choruses that have gotten lodged firmly in my head since I first heard the album. But over-all, that’s all it seems to be composed of: moments. Lungs was a piece. Ceremonials is a series of moments. It’s missing some of the power Lungs had. Which brings me to my next point.

I have the deluxe edition of Ceremonials (I know, I’m so fancy). At the end of the album, or I suppose, making up the majority of the deluxe content, are acoustic versions of Heartline, Shake it Out, and Breaking Down. And they kick the shit out of the original versions. The first time I heard Shake it Out, I liked it. I liked it a lot. But I wouldn’t say I was moved. The first time I heard the acoustic version, I cried. I shed tears. On the bus. On the way to work. Same song. Same Flo. Entirely different reaction. Maybe I’m biased; I do love me some acoustic guitar. But I don’t think it’s overreaching to say that on Ceremonials, some of the power of Flo’s brilliance is dulled by all of the processing, the electronics. As far as Lungs went, I don’t think there was another way to do it, especially with the jazz/electro blends, a perfect example of which was Girl with One Eye. That sounds made Lungs. On Ceremonials, it feels forced.

I’ve also noticed that Ceremonials feels less like Florence. I know she’s only got the two albums, but on my first listen of the album, I went through and basically said to every song, “Oh this sounds like such and such band, and this one sounds like this!” Most notably, Breaking Down sounds like it should be on a Beach House album. It’s not a bad thing – I love Beach House. But I didn’t buy a Beach House album. I’m aware artists borrow and evolve. I’m not naive. But Lungs was unmistakable. Unmistakably F+TM.

My final gripe is one song: Landscape. If you don’t have the deluxe version, you’ll never have heard this song.

Which is a fucking shame.

Landscape is listed as a demo. It’s not actually a part of Ceremonials. It is, in my humble opinion, the best song on the album. And it is unmistakably Flo.

Strangeness and Charm is another deluxe edition-only release, and I have to say, I was taken by it from the time I read the title. Strangeness and Charm are properties of sub-atomic particles known as quarks. If you’re familiar with this blog, you’re familiar with quarks. Yes, Flo. Please sing more science to me.

Reading this review, you must think I hate Ceremonials. You would be wrong. I only just got it and I’ve listened to it probably about twenty times so far and I’ll probably listen to it once a day for the next couple of months. I love it. I really do. It’s a great album. But there are so many small, small things that could have made a great album a masterpiece.

A brief review:

Paperclippe’s Favorite Songs from Ceremonials (Deluxe): Only if for a Night, Heartlines (Acoustic), Breaking Down (Acoustic), Shake it Out (Acoustic), Landscape (Demo), Strangeness and Charm (Deluxe Only).

Least Favorites: What the Water Gave Me (Demo), Remain Nameless (Deluxe Only), Heartlines.