Those who know me know that I am stubborn. For example, when the Harry Potter books began circulating, and people were beginning to consider them as one of the greatest series in literary history, my friend tried to get me to read them. She had read them and loved them and expressed to me that I would fall head over heels for the books, the characters, the adventures. My mom and my sister were also on board, and trying to pull me up out of the water constantly saying how much I would love J.K. Rowling‘s writing. I balked, I backed away, I shook my head no, and ran from the idea of picking something up just because everyone on the planet was reading it. I had no interest in it before, so why should I read something just because the world was turning page after page of something? Despite being relatively self-aware and not really caring if people think I am a pretentious poser, I still fall into the trappings of having low self-esteem. Did I want people thinking that I was doing something just because of the rest of world was doing it? Hell no. I held off for as long as I could before casually picking up the first book and devouring it in a day. Thus started my obsession with Harry Potter.
What does this have to do with Florence and her machine? For months I have had people suggesting to me that I listen to her music. I had a single song thanks to the Eclipse soundtrack (which yes, the only thing I like about the Twilight franchise, and the only good thing about it, is the music). I had listened to it, thought it was beautifully sung, and had this mystifying quality to it. It was intriguing, it made me want to look up more of her music so I could sink into her voice and the ambience of her music. The only thing holding me back? Her popularity. It was like reliving those moments with the Harry Potter series. The only difference was that she intrigued me, there was a part of me that wanted to hear more. The music had piqued my interest. But I was not acting on it, which then made me genuinely pretentious.
“Dog Days Are Over,” the most well-known single on her album Lungs, has a very radio friendly quality. It reminded me of Yael Naim‘s “New Soul“. However, unlike “New Soul”, “Dog Days Are Over” encompassed characteristics of popular music while still sounding untouched by over production. It even prompted my fiancé to ask if Apple had used it in one of their commercials (“New Soul” was, I honestly don’t know if “Dog Days Are Over” has been.) It is a catchy track that inspires adjectives like “indie doo-wop.” Her voice is by far the most powerful instrument, hitting multiple notes in a single word. It no longer was just a vehicle for lyrics, but a specific tool. It melds the tambourine, drum beat, and piano to her words. The effect is stunning and all-encompassing. As the song nears the end this overwhelming combination of drums, tambourine, piano, and vocals turns the track into an experience. It transcends just music.
The use of a cacophony of sounds presents itself in other songs on the album without becoming old or repetitive. If anything, it inspires awe at her vocal capabilities. Hearing her belt out lyrics literally sends chills up my spine and gives me goosebumps. There is raw power in her voice and she manipulates it to blend seamlessly with the backing instruments. I cannot praise it enough. I have also fallen for her words. There have been many moments when listening to her album that blow me away with the truth behind the lyrics. She has a knack for using simple statements to hint at deeper meanings. The first time I heard “I’m Not Calling You a Liar” I began nodding along to it, agreeing with her words: “I’m not calling you a liar, just don’t lie to me. And I love you so much, I’m going to let you kill me.” The statement is simple, but carries a lot of emotional weight. It is something that I believe presents itself in any relationship (not just romantic ones, but familial and friendships, as well). The downfall of allowing your love for someone to overlook possible infidelity or dishonesty. You just pray that they will not emotionally murder you in the end.
“Howl” opens with the line, “If you could only see the beast you made in me, I held it in but now it seems you set it running free.” The music compliments the words with this constant drumming, as if feet are pounding on the ground in a sprint. The general feeling evoked by the lyrics, as well as the music, is chaos. The first time I heard the track I had this vision of a full moon night and a girl transforming into some sort of werewolf. It echoes the crazy neurosis and physical attraction men can inspire in women, or vice versa. It points to the basic human truth that we are animals, and though we have thought and free will and the knowledge of good and evil, there are some things that are instinctual and predatory. No one can deny the feelings that happen when we bond with someone. There is this chemical reaction and when someone else preys upon our desire, there is a beast that roars to life and it is out for blood. As Florence wails over the drumming, it sounds as if she is howling to the moon praising and cursing the beast within.
The song “Between Two Lungs” is a musically simple and lyrically challenging track that sends shock waves throughout my body. On the surface it is not hard to understand that she is literally describing a breath, something that promotes life. It is between two lungs, between two people, escaping our lips. Our hearts are also between our lungs. The heart is often associated with the emotional part of our selves, it is our center. It, too, contains our life blood, physically, mentally, and emotionally, and we pass it from person to person. We are able to hold it in, not express it, to have it remained trapped within ourselves. It can propel us, like she sings, forward. The music sounds like a heartbeat. The drum and piano propel the song, like a heart propels blood throughout our system. It is an echo of the lyrics and gives life to the words, like our lungs, like our breath, like our heart.
Lungs is by far one of the most poetic albums I have ever heard. Florence’s vocals are beautiful. I know that word is relatively generic and that it can mean several of things. It does not express specific qualities and has the potential to mean varied things to many of people. But I think that is also why it is possibly the best word to use for it. The only downfall of that description is that her voice is not generic, but is rich with sound and emotion and it is easy to see how it can evoke a myriad of adjectives. People can describe her voice as smooth and silky moving over words, or majestic and angelic, as if descending from something on high, or powerful, because it reaches not only the smallest corners of a room, but can fill every space in the emotional corners of our selves. It is not just a vehicle for words, but she combines it with and uses it as an instrument so that the song is not broken into lyrics and sound, but makes it so that the sounds are lyrical and the lyrics are sounds.