Review: Florence + the Machine – High As Hope

Florence Welch is not really known for the peaceful side of music. Thematically, things like storms and fights take precedent over quieter things. However, when I listened to her newest album, High As Hope, the only thing I felt was peace. Welch seems to be at peace with herself and the places she’s been and, therefore, the album exudes it.

You can buy High as Hope on Apple Music.

By the end of a Florence + the Machine album, I’m generally shocked. The albums are always intense and fast moving. It takes a while for everything to work itself out in my mind in order for it to become a complete work. That didn’t need to happen with High As Hope, because it’s just calm. Her last album was called How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. The album was long and expansive like the ocean the title refers to. The latest album moves faster; it clocks in at 39 minutes and 57 seconds, though I thought about it for a heck of a lot longer than that.

The album opens with a song called “June”, which is aptly titled, being that the album was released on June 29th. It opens the album very quietly with the first lines being sung a cappella, before being joined by the slightest of strings. It sounds very Florence-esque, but in a very subdued way, almost akin to “Various Storms and Saints”. It sets the tone for the rest of the album in a way that makes the more energetic songs (not that there are many) almost feel out of place.

“Hunger” was the second single released in preparation for this album cycle. This song is heavy right from the beginning. In one line, she reveals that she struggled with an eating disorder. This sets up the idea that everyone is looking for something. Later, she sings, “Picking it apart and staring at your phone”. I know this might be a bit of a far reach, but the album art she chose as the cover for the song is of her reaching for a seedling. To me, when I listened to the song and looked at the album art, I saw a specific hunger for something authentic. Natural processes vs. machines (no pun intended), in a way. She specifically requested that audience members put their phones away on her last tour, in order that they might focus on what was actually going on around them, not watching life through a screen.

The final single she released, “Big God” is probably my least favorite track on the album. It just doesn’t seem like single material. “A Sky Full of Song”, though, is one of my favorite tracks. I love the fact that many of the songs are so bass-heavy. My fiancé is a bass player, so I might be a little biased, but I think the bass is underrated.

My absolute favorite song on the album is track six, titled “Grace”. She’s talking about the mistakes she’s made and the people she’s let down over the years. There’s a desperation in the way she sings on this song that makes it impossible to ignore. She sings, “I’m sorry I ruined your birthday”, regarding her substance abuse in her younger years and how it negatively affected her family life. She apologizes for it by singing, “But this is the only thing I’ve ever had any faith in / Grace, I know you carry us / Grace, it was such a mess”. To add context, her sister is named Grace and played an important role in keeping Florence going. In the same song, we find both an apology and thankfulness, which I think is the most beautiful expression on the album.

The final song on the album is called “No Choir” for exactly that reason. Florence is known for her use of overly layered vocals that provide that choral effect and it is completely absent here in this track. Like, “June”, it starts off a cappella and uses strings to build up to an emotional level that would be seen as ridiculous coming from anyone else but Renaissance queen Florence Welch. It’s about her music and where it’s taken her, and it’s a beautiful conclusion to an album that has shone light on some of the worst days of her life.

I think the album was crafted like the pain management brand Icy-Hot. “Icy to dull the pain. Hot to relax it away.” The topics Florence brings up on High As Hope are heavy but relatable – There’s your ice. The music is soothing and completely contrary to anything she’s talking about – There’s the heat. Gone are the angry drums and frantic melodies. Instead, it’s like you’re in the eye of the hurricane. It’s peaceful and safe. You can still sense the danger, and the minute you leave that spot, you’re back in the thick of the storm, but for this 39 minutes and 57 seconds, Florence + the Machine whisk you away and create, as always, a masterpiece.

4.5/5

by Nadia Paiva

kiel_hauckNadia Paiva has been a music enthusiast since she can remember. Going to shows is her main pastime. The other is being upset when she can’t go to shows. This is her first official venture into writing about music. You can follow her on Twitter.

Photo by Vincent Haycock

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