|Album Review: Florence + The Machine—"High As Hope"|
Florence + The Machine
High As Hope
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I think Florence Welch is finally happy. High As Hope, the singer's fourth LP with band Florence + The Machine sees her turning a new leaf.
High As Hope begins on an inhale and ends on a hum. With the first breath, Florence is setting herself up for the continuous exhale of the next forty minutes. Unlike her last album How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, which was a raging fire of kinetic energy, High As Hope doesn't hit you like a ton of bricks. Her all-consuming vocal is tinged with aspects of gospel and orchestral jazz, courtesy of Kamasi Washington. Under the deft co-production of Emile Haynie, Welch manages to maintain the constant motion of her affected-by-absolutely-everything soul while leaving room for silence and empty space.
High As Hope is almost entirely devoid of cynicism. Florence is no longer the high priestess of frantic devastation, but rather of surrender to overwhelming feeling. On "No Choir," she warbles "It's hard to write about being happy/because the older I get/I find that happiness is an extremely uneventful subject." And yet she seems to manage just fine—there's no pulsing drum, it isn't a giant pop ballad, but "No Choir" is a moment worth dog-earing just the same. That's it, I think. Florence has finally figured out how to find the music and the beauty and the chaos in the small things: the drinking of coffee, the wandering along empty streets and feeling alive and in love with yourself. The unequivocal hidden gem on High As Hope is "The End of Love." It's understated and gentle, until it isn't. Layered vocals, rather than heavy instrumentation, and gospel handclaps compliment her huge voice. The melody is simple and stark. Jamie xx has a co-writing credit on "Big God," which is, despite being perhaps one of my favourite Florence songs ever written, the only song on High As Hope that feels out of place. It may have found a happier home on Ceremonials, with its primal attitude and dark spiritual imagery.
This album is a fragmented set of notes on loving. Most of the tracks read like poetry rather than songs, with a stream-of-consciousness style that could make Joni Mitchell jealous. Amongst it are memories, yes. "June" and "South London Forever" both contain elements of the old Hurricane Florence, regaling us with tales of wilder times, drug-drenched nights and monumental hangovers. "Hunger," originally meant as a poem which Florence describes as "too honest," is a love letter to a seventeen-year-old Welch. "Grace" is a sister's apology for ruined birthdays. That said, this album is more about connection than anything else. We get caught up in the anger. We hide behind our wit and cheap sarcasm and we're afraid to show we care too much. We're killing the planet, and everything looks pretty bleak. Much of criticism, literature and music has taken on an apocalyptic attitude, and although realism is necessary, High As Hope is refreshing and unflinchingly genuine. Other critics may find Florence's repetition of "I'm so high" the most noteworthy thing on opening track "June," but it seems to me that the deeper, clearer refrain is "hold on to each other." On "Patricia," her tribute to punk legend Patti Smith, Florence refers to the poet as her "north star," and asks "are you afraid? Because I'm terrified, but you remind me it's such a wonderful thing to love." And as she sighs out her final notes, I imagine Florence barefoot in her kitchen, humming and swaying to some melody she's conjured from thin air.