June 30, 2009
It seems, in the last few years, that London’s cornered the newly-created market of soulful white singers—Amy Winehouse, Adele, Joss Stone, likely a hundred others I don’t know of. Don’t get me wrong. Most of those artists and the music they produce I adore. I mean, who doesn’t love Adele? Total d-bags, that’s who. Anyway, my point is that, even though I think most of the music in this vein is good to great, it obviously harkens back to an older form of music, namely 60’s and 70’s soul. Much of the music from the new soul invasion tries to freshen things up a bit, adding a spin to the sound—Winehouse has to go to rehab, Adele shows that she ain’t gonna stand shit, shows that she’s united, etc.—but it’s all drawing from this same pool of creativity that’s roughly 30 to 40 years old at this point. Which, again, is fine. Sometimes that’s exactly what we want to hear. But, let’s face it, it’s not wholly original. It’s a throwback to a time long-gone. Which brings me to what I like about Florence and the Machine
The recording name for Florence Welch and whomever happens to be backing her, Florence and the Machine—oft referred to as FloMac, for better or for worse—takes a different approach to making great music. Welch’s voice is spectacular in the same way that Winehouse’s and Adele’s voices are spectacular. You’ve got the range, the growling, soulful vocalization, all the good stuff that usually lands a singer smack dab in the middle of a soul revival group of some sort. But with FloMac (sorry, it’s shorter, easier to type), they’ve stitched together this new, contemporary outfit for what some would call an old, sometimes more formal voice. They’ve avoided the easy math: Soulful Female Vox + R&B Band + PR Package = Awesome Sales. Welch has the voice for that equation, and I can only assume London—where she studied and took to stage—is lousy with soul bands right now. But Florence and those who helped her carve out a place in the music world chose a different route, either because it made sense on a fundamental, song-writing level or maybe just because they didn’t want to be lumped in with what has to be a dying genre at this point. Regardless, the result is great.
On her debut EP, A Lot of Love. A Lot of Blood., Welch and company have sculpted some pleasing, largely original soundscapes to showcase her beautiful voice. The best efforts on the four-song + one remix album—Dogs Days are Over and You’ve Got the Love—are pieces held together at first by light, sparkly strings (mandolin and harp, respectively). They both then progress at their own pace, bringing in strong, danceable drums, and throwing in a healthy dose of musical breaks lest we forget how awesome Ms. Flo’s voice be. The EP also gives us a great cover of the Cold War Kids’ Hospital Beds, which does get a bit of a more traditional treatment with Welch goin’ all gospel on us, again employing a slow build, then adding minimalist acoustic guitar, single tom hits, and then, finally, full on choral attack, complete with tambourine. Her other more popular single, Kiss with a Fist, is the only place I can hear the oft-written about similarity to the White Stripes. Whereas I was never a huge fan of the Stripes, I am actually endeared to Fist, I think because it again avoids an overly-retro musical treatment and sidesteps a straight-up blues progression, making a bit more stripped down punk than blues, which is always a plus in my book.
Overall, Love/Blood is a superb EP and a great debut. In addition to the likable, nicely-arranged songs, with both her lyrics and PR imagery, Welch paints a compellingly weird, macabre, art school view of herself and the world, again amping up the contemporary and avoiding the throwback. And I’ll take arty darkness over rehab, as far as subject matter goes. So I can safely be counted among the throngs of others excitedly awaiting the full-length, Lungs, that should hit shelves/interwebs next month. In the meantime, enjoy these two tracks from the EP—posted with the kind permission of I AM SOUND RECORDS— and go get a copy of the whole thing yourself.