Monday, May 2, 2011

Going With the Flo

I usually write about music that I like that nobody knows, or very few people know.  There is so much good quality music out there that is being ignored by the masses, and I’ve made it my job to present the internet public with my opinions on it, as it appears in my iTunes library in alphabetical order.  That trend sort of continues with the letter F, yet this is a band that has already gotten some moderate-level recognition in the States, and COULD possibly get more attention.  This is Florence and the Machine.

Florence Welch and her session musicians (called the Machine) released their debut disc Lungs in the UK in the summer of 2009.  It wasn’t until over a year later that they made their mark on the States, first with their music featured in the trailer for Eat, Pray, Love, and (rightfully) stealing the show at the 2010 MTV VMAs.  Since then, the public ands media appearances still occur, but not to the extent of more popular but less talented “stars” who thrive more on gimmicks.

So do Flo and her Machine deserve more mainstream attention?  Is Lungs an album full of audible art, or is it just not catchy or commercial enough to tussle with the perceived “big guns”?  And no, that was not a direct reference to Katy Perry’s whipped cream-vomiting bra.  Not really.

“Dog Days Are Over,” We open the album with the song that was used in the aforementioned Pray trailer, and the song that inspired a VMA performance that made Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, et al look like a bunch of circus rejects that failed to make the list of Water For Elephants extras.  The lilting ukulele, tambourine-infused cadence, and rich vocals against a production that made it sound like it was recorded in Westminster Abbey give the song a very majestic feel, and I really love the chorus of “Run fast for you mother, run fast for you father/Run for your children/For you sisters and brothers.”  A very energetic and uplifting tune.  Grade: A+.

“Raise it Up (Rabbit Heart),” This song has a bit of an 80s, Human League-type feel, with the synth and piano and vigorous snare drum cadence.  Flo’s voice gets a little lost in the production during the chorus, but it’s still a cool song.  Grade: B+

“I’m Not Calling You a Liar,” The slow, flowing hand-clapping beat is enough to get you swaying, and the subtle use of the harp make me feel like I’m listening to this song in a forest straight out of Stardust.  You think she’d make a video for this song and use Robert DeNiro dressed in drag?  No? Grade: A-

“Howl,” This is a song that sounds like it could have been used in Red Riding Hood…*chorus of boos*….kidding!  I’m kidding!  This song is above that trite of a film.  The eerie piano chords that kick in after a few seconds and stay throughout the song, coupled with the violin cadence, sounds just flat-out cool, and Flo basically, well, howls the chorus.  The live versions I’ve heard show cracks in Flo’s vocal armor, but the sound is just as big and bold, and the song is still a highlight of her shows.  Grade: A

“A Kiss With a Fist,” Flo has stated that this song is not about domestic violence, but the lyrics seem to suggest otherwise.  I mean, seriously…black eyes, beds on fire, kicking and slapping?  Yeesh.  I guess you could take it to mean that the relationship portrayed in the song thrives on violence and is at least not boring and dead, but that does not make it any less disturbing.  And the punk-like arrangement seems somewhat fitting for the lyrics. Grade: B

“Girl With One Eye,” This musical tale of revenge really showcases what Flo’s voice is capable of.  It’s mournful, scheming and blues-y, yet soulful at the same time.  Flo’s voice shows great range and nuances that are a little more covered-up in the other songs on the album, and that wail on “Cryyyyyyyyyyyyy!!”?  Rich and gorgeous.  Best song on the album. Grade: A+

“Drumming Song,” There is a lot of drumming here.  Literally and lyrically.  Those pounding tympanis are really resonant and overpower Flo in a few spots.  The repetitiveness of the chorus gets a little grating, but it’s a nice song, nonetheless. Grade: B

“Between Two Lungs,” I love how the choir in the background gradually swells throughout the song, especially when matched with an alternating tempo of djimbe, tambourine and hand-claps.  I hear a little She & Him influence in this song, and I like that. Grade: A

“Cosmic Love,” Another movie trailer song, as this one was used heavily in the Water for Elephants trailer, among TV promos for The Office, The Vampire Diaries, etc.  The harp, the tympanis, the keyboards…all of it comes together to form this gorgeous, space-like symphony that can be used as a majestic anthem for any big, momentous occasion.  The second-best on the album. Grade: A+

“My Boy Builds Coffins,”  From the majestic to the dark.  This song is, of course, about a coffin maker/undertaker.  It’s much more low-key and quiet, and the way Flo sings about making coffins for him, her, and the listener is spine-tingling and creepy.  And I think the point of this song is to remind us that death is inevitable for everyone.  Good to know.  Grade: B+

“Hurricane Drunk,” It seems that this song is the token drinking song on a British album.  Though the lyrics seem to subtly portray the setting of Mardi Gras, and the subject goes on a major Hurricane binge after seeing her boyfriend with another girl among the massive throngs of party-goers.  The tempo is a nice mid-tempo groove, and Flo’s voice, though not magnificent, powers nicely through it. Grade: B+

“Blind,” We go back to another big, anthemic song, though this one is much more ethereal and minor-key.  The violin riffs are really cool, but the rest of the song drags a little in places.  Grade: B

“You Got the Love,”  This is a cover of a song by 70s singer Candi Staton, and while it’s a nice, uplifting closer for the album, it also seems slightly out of place, as many of the elements that are showcased in the rest of the album are absent here.  Flo does, however, use more of her upper register and conquer the lyrics with gusto, but I think this song would have been put to better use in the middle of the album instead.  Grade: B.

And there you have it!  Lungs is one of my favorite albums of last year, and while I get excited to see it used in the mainstream media in one way or another, I do remain cautiously optimistic.  If the band does take off and become really well-known, I hope it doesn’t dumb down their music into commercial fluff crap.  It just needs to go with the Flo and let them be.

Recommended Tracks: "Cosmic Love," "Girl With One Eye," "Between Two Lungs," "Dog Days Are Over," "Howl"

Until next time....Long live the harp

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