Album Review: Florence + the Machine – High As Hope

By on Monday, 23rd July 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

Florence and the Machine High as Hope album coverOur favourite Earth mother Florence Welch is back, this time leading her band on a 10-track journey of organic creativity. Florence + The Machine have stripped it way back in their new album ‘High As Hope’, leaving much of their pop preferences behind and instead colouring their LP with folk influences. It’s easy to see why many are mistaken in thinking ‘Florence + The Machine’ is simply Welch’s pseudonym when their newest release feels like Welch’s singular creation, the role of the band feeling a little unclear. The background accompaniment takes a backseat to Welch’s theatrics: compared to her previous albums, this one is simple and acoustically driven, giving full attention to the vocals. All ten tracks put a spotlight on Welch’s vocal abilities, expressed in earthy, raw and rich tones that only Welch can do.

One of the most successful aspects of the album is that each song is like a different page of a diary, particularly tracks ‘Grace’ and ‘Patricia’, which feel more like letters than songs. ‘Grace’ starts as a beautiful piano ballad, with Welch sounding timid and sincere until the song blooms into a powerful chorus bringing with it heaps of emotion. The direct address to ‘Grace’ really creates a sense that the listener has intruded on a personal moment as Welch divulges her deepest thoughts and fears in lyrics such as “I guess I could go back to university / try and make my mother proud”. Although ‘Patricia’ is more upbeat, there is still a heartfelt address to a character that seems to have had a significant impact on Welch. There is a pure honesty and sincerity that bursts out of ‘Grace’ and ‘Patricia’, offering an authenticity that stands out against the rest of the album.

There is an undeniable intimacy to ‘High As Hope’, not just through the ‘diary’ narratives but also through the use of a capella sections in ‘No Choir’ and ‘Sky Full of Song’. Few artists are brave enough to showcase their vocals abilities through a capella, but it works brilliantly for Florence and the Machine. The unaccompanied vocals open these songs, instantly setting an intimate tone as no accompaniment can distract from Welch’s lyrics. This is most effective in portraying a melancholic emotion in The start of ‘No Choir’ is effective at conveying melancholy as Welch sings, “And it’s hard to write about being happy, ’cause all that I get / I find that happiness is an extremely uneventful subject”. Listeners cannot escape from the sadness Welch is expressing; instead, we are forced to deal with these emotions and engage with the song. It is a powerful tactic and one that is heightened by the subtle accompaniment rising and falling in perfect tandem with Welch, never once overpowering the vocals, yet still supporting the emotion.

Heavenly connotations across several tracks keeps ‘High As Hope’ unique, which are again supported beautifully by the instrumentation. Fourth track ‘Big God’ addresses this theme in its title, while opening track ‘June’ connotes heaven through references to angels: “you’re so high, you had to be an angel”. The instrumentation and production shadow the theme by creating huge, angelic sounds through layered strings and gorgeously dramatic, reverberating vocals. Despite such powerful sounds, the production isn’t overdone and hasn’t distorted the natural sounds of the instruments.

One of the first singles released from the LP ‘Hunger’, has been accompanied by an artistically abstract video. The single is catchy and radio friendly, yet it still carries the profound message of human nature’s hunger for love, perfectly captured by the visual accompaniment. The video portrays this through the use of statues as symbolism for human isolation. Symbolism continues in abundance, with images of forests evoking the organic nature of song and the rest of the album. The music video is atypical, more like a piece of art than it is a music video.

Florence + The Machine have taken a turn down a different road for ‘High As Hope’, showcasing another side to Welch’s songwriting. The album feels like a slice of Welch’s soul, giving us a much more honest and genuine perspective of Welch than in any previous albums. Authentic and personal elements make the LP so alluring, each song having a purpose, an emotion and a message. Radio stations may fool you into thinking that ‘Hunger’ is the only power track here, but that couldn’t be more wrong. The entire album is a masterpiece.

9/10

‘High As Hope’, the fourth studio album from Florence + the Machine, is out now on Virgin EMI and Republic Records. Catch Welch and her band on their world tour starting in the UK from the 15th of November. For more information on live dates visit Florence + The Machine’s official Web site. Read through all of our past coverage on the artist through this link.

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