Florence + Machine, a London-born indie rock band with worldwide following recently released a new album "High As Hope" on June, 29. It had been three years since the band had released their last album, "How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful," which cemented the band's unique place in the indie rock industry.
The leading genres for the brand's new releases include soul, indie rock and orchestral rock which are supported by Florence's extraterrestrial, hypnotizing alto. Florence and the Machine had a minimalist approach regarding the absence of auto-tune and very little usage of back vocals, which just slightly support lead singer's voice and orchestral music.
"High As Hope" can be characterized as a short autobiography of Ms. Florence Welch; the band's lead singer, which takes the listener from her teen times to the character we know today. The album shares al plenty of features with all of their previous albums including the overall music style, themes of love, family as an institution, nature, friendship. However, this recently released album has a more personal approach, putting aside combinations of dark undertones about witchery, sins, and grand biblical personas from "How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful." Instead, "High As Hope" uncovers Ms. Welch's past challenges including the struggle with psychological disorders such as anorexia, insecurity, drug and alcohol addiction, online abuse, as well as family hardships.
Florence and The Machine have cooperated with 198 different musicians since 2007. The group has had different professionals collaborating while sharing styles and approaches with each other that have made all the four albums to remain genuinely unique and exciting to the audience. The collaboration by different artists has helped in the creation of a solid choral blend of voices and harmonized intonation that has increased the popularity of Florence and The Machines albums. Over the years, filmmakers had been featuring Florence and The Machine's songs in over 150 shows and films, such "Eat, Pray, Love" (2010, Dir. Ryan Murphy; Song: The Dog Days are Over) "The Great Gatsby" (Baz Luhrman, 2013; Song: Over the Love).
Listening to the majority of songs from this album creates a feeling of dialogue with Ms. Florence. Her songs touch on a broad range of themes through her lyrics, such as eating disorders and body image in Hunger; suicide of a close relative at The End of Love; ghosting, a popular way of online abuse in the Big God; Welch had also touched themes of alcoholism and drugs in teenagers in the South London Forever. As somebody who had gone through most of the mentioned vices above, there are plenty of emotional and physical hardships that the songs arouse to the audience. Listening to every bit of the songs, I had tears fill my eyes with sorrow and pity in my soul; Florence's songs have touched my life in the most undefined ways. Although songs are representing Florence Welch's past, they are very relatable.
It is always hard finding somebody who understands you and does not judge your shortcomings at the same time. Moreover, we tend to think that celebrities are disconnected from us, they are viewed as elevated persons distanced from the ordinary living beings, and that they may never link or understand our problems. The society calls them "stars," to underline how distant they are from the ordinary folks; we can only envy how shiny and glamorous their lives are. However, Florence Welch has proven herself different; she is a down to earth person, sharing her story in High As Hope's 10 songs while engaging and comforting her listeners. She is the star celebrity that speaks and reaches out to her audience in the most intimate way ever.
Thus, to establish a greater connection with her audience, Florence chose to communicate through the various online channels about all compositions. "And by singing it out loud, together we become a choir, a chorus, higher than the hurt, louder than loneliness," she commented about Hunger on her Instagram.
Hunger is the album's lead single, and it explores Florence's attempts and ways of perceiving love through the starvation in her late teen years. Lately, Florence had discussed her eating disorder in the interview to the New York Times. Ms. Welch confessed that it was a massive step for her since had not even discussed it with her mom until recent years; she felt that her fans would take it as whining and complaining. Yet, according to the Billboard Adult Alternative airplay chart, the audience received it with warmth, rising it to the top on the sixth week of song's release.
"At seventeen, I started to starve myself
I thought that love was a kind of emptiness
And at least I understood then the hunger I felt
And I didn't have to call it loneliness."
According to Florence, opening the album with "Hunger" was a very bold step. Although the music is performed by an orchestra, the song is very dynamic and expressive, bright, modern - contrary to the "boring" orchestra cliche. In the song, "hunger" has both literal and metaphorical meaning - physical and emotional starvation for the higher purpose, such as love.
When I heard the first chords and words, I had to rewind to the beginning, again and again. I found myself locked in the eating disorder clinic's rehab when I was seventeen, starving myself for the sake of being accepted by my family and classmates. In the Hunger, Florence was singing about her own attempts at being perfect. It is widely known that the majority of diagnosed with anorexia nervosa are perfectionists. Most teenagers are often bound with the ache for love and the desire for companionship; these insatiable desires lead them to the extreme point of anorexia.
Another notable single, Sky Full of Song, reflects on Welch's relationship with her art, as she approaches singing for the relief, but paradoxically continues feeling pain from the meaning of her lyrics. This is stated in a powerful pre-chorus of the song:
"Grab me by my ankles, I've been flying for too long
I couldn't hide from the thunder in a sky full of song
And I want you so badly, but you could be anyone
I couldn't hide from the thunder in a sky full of song."
Florence and the Machine's previous album, "How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful" was inspired by her painful break-up. She had put all her sadness, despair, pain, anger, and agony into sixteen songs and went on tour, "flying" from one city to another. At the time, she was searching relief by erupting pain into the world while singing. Florence Welch was also heavily drinking before her performances to relax and tame the emotional "thunders" in her soul. However, the more she repeated this practice, the more she realized that she is trapped and needed help.
I was surprised to find the clues about her previous tours in the new album; the challenges and success in her songs. "The Sky Full of Song" was something very personal, exposing her vulnerable and human side. In this song, we see Florence as a woman, who had a very traumatic break-up and is trying to move on; not as a stage character. And, ironically, Ms. Welch is searching help in us, her listeners, while we are looking for comfort in her.
Florence also made "High As Hope" a tribute to people she loves: her families, such as her sister in "Grace" or her friend, legendary poet, musician and feminist Patti Smith in "Patricia." It is great, and as a film director, I also dedicate my works to my friends or family members; the people who are closest to me. For instance, I dedicated my latest film to my brother who was dying from cancer. It sounds like something personal at first. However, I did my best to make every decoration, emotion, word clear to my audience. I understand that no matter how my famous my brother is in the nano-technological industry for nano-encapsulation, the majority of viewers probably would have never heard about him even as a scientist, not to say as a person. As Ms. Welch's big fan, I would have liked more clarity in the lyrics, so I would know why this particular one out of the ten songs is dedicated to this particular person.
Summing up, "High As Hope" is not for everyone. It resonates closely to the people who have gone through personal hardships to understand all of the instrumental and lyrical contexts. For instance, "South London Forever" and "Grace" are very personalized, although if the listener can dig a bit deeper into Welch's biography, they may find something catchy to connect the two songs.
"South London Forever," is my least favorite song out of the entire album. Its musical style falls off the album's mode and has weird hippy vibes. Noticeably, the dominating instrument here are drums, rather than Welch's alto, drawing us away with loud beats from the song's meaning. Also, the listener should be well informed about what "South London" is. It resembles rural area more than megapolis. It also has bigger drugs rate amongst other London districts. Finally, I had issues with South London's slang present in the song, such as "High on E."
Overall, I would highly recommend this album for adults who are past their raging years and have some disturbing background and heavy loads behind their shoulders, just like Florence Welch. High as Hope is an engaging, influential album, with beautiful musical arrangements and rare instruments such as the organ, the harp, and the horns. It shows the beauty of human-made music, which is rare in the modern musical context. This album is for the ones who love "consuming" their music slowly and mindfully, who don't mind to spend time for extra-research about causes discussed in the lyrics.
I would rate it an 8/10, with high hopes that in future Florence + the Machine would be a little more watchful and less niche with some of their songs.
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