Florence and the Machine’s fourth record isn’t exactly their most impressive work; 5 Seconds of Summer’s newest release lacks truly unique flavours and textures; Dirty Projectors’ new record is a joyous affair.
By Sameen Amer
Artist: Florence + the Machine
Album: High as Hope***
Florence Welch and her band burst onto the music scene like a breath of fresh air with songs like the irresistible ‘Kiss with a Fist’ and ‘Dog Days are Over’ a decade ago. But the subsequent years started to highlight the limitation in their repertoire. The big choruses and grand orchestrals weren’t always as exhilarating as they were the first time around. Welch’s unique voice, which certainly set the group apart from others, also became their most polarizing aspect. To some it seemed ethereal, to others shrill; Liam Gallagher thought she sounded like someone was standing on her foot.
It’s fair to say that opinions have varied greatly about this English outfit’s musical output. But whichever camp you fall into, you’re not likely to change your mind after listening to High as Hope. The fourth record by the indie pop band isn’t exactly their most impressive work but still displays the same passion that has made them so beloved to so many fans.
The set comprises 10 songs packed with emotions, co-written and co-produced by Welch herself, primarily with the help of Emile Haynie. She sings about eating disorder and desire on the album’s lead single ‘Hunger’; seeks forgiveness from her younger sister in ‘Grace’ and pays tribute to her idol Patti Smith with ‘Patricia’.
But while she’s lyrically personal, the melodies aren’t as powerful on this record, and the song structures are too similar. There are strings and pianos adorning the compositions, but the arrangements are stripped down by Florence + the Machine standards. Even when the sonic landscape is relatively sparse, for instance on a song like ‘Sky Full of Song’ and the aforementioned ‘Grace’, the result is undeniably appealing, but it lacks the lushness of the group’s initial hits. Welch’s voice remains as distinctive as ever, but it’s most effective here when it’s controlled and fragile.
Ultimately, High as Hope does not possess the energy and exciting instrumentation of Florence + the Machine’s earlier work, but its passion and emotions will still resonate with the group’s admirers.
Highlights: ‘Sky Full of Song’, ‘Grace’, ‘Patricia’
Artist: Dirty Projectors
Album: Lamp Lit Prose****
David Longstreth has put his creative energies to good use on Dirty Projectors’ eighth album, Lamp Lit Prose. Unlike last year’s self-titled effort that focused on his breakup with former partner and band-mate Amber Coffman, the new record is a joyous affair, marrying imaginative experimentation with bright pop melodies.
Longstreth continues to hold the reins of the band, writing and producing much of this 10-song set himself. Sparkling guitars, vibrant horns, and rhythmic percussions variously come together to intriguing effect here. Unorthodox arrangements power these indie rock tunes that are peppered with hints of jazz, funk, and hip hop.
The songwriter’s outlook is more positive than before, as he seems more optimistic in romance, gushing about his partner on songs like the standout ‘Break-Thru’ and gentle ballad ‘You’re the One’ (which features Fleet Foxes’ Robin Pecknold and former Vampire Weekend multi-instrumentalist Rostam). Elsewhere, The Internet’s Syd provides a helping hand on buoyant album opener ‘Right Now’; Empress Of lend energy to the edgy ‘Zombie Conqueror’ (which feels like two songs smushed into one); Amber Mark appears on the soulful, upbeat ‘I Feel Energy’; while Dear Nora contribute to eerie closer ‘(I Wanna) Feel It All’.
Even when it’s sonically challenging, Longstreth makes sure Lamp Lit Prose remains accessible. And while these offbeat tracks certainly aren’t for everyone, those who enjoy experimental indie are very likely to find them rewarding.
Highlights: ‘Break-Thru’, ‘Right Now’, ‘I Found It in U’, ‘What Is the Time’
Artist: 5 Seconds of Summer
With their third album, Australian group 5 Seconds of Summer finally drop all pretence of being punk and fully embrace their pop identity, going from guitar playing boyband to purveyors of catchy synth pop. Their subject matter hasn’t changed much. They are still singing about – as you would expect – girls and relationships, with a few requisite musings on the downsides of partying thrown into the mix. But there is a marked difference in their sound, which has become more beige on this record.
With 13 pristinely polished songs that find them trying to impress fans of Charlie Puth and Shawn Mendez instead of Blink-182 and Green Day, 5SOS offer a collection of dance pop and middle-of-the-road soft rock that seamlessly blends into the mainstream. And in going this route, the young Aussies – Luke Hemmings, Calum Hood, Michael Clifford, and Ashton Irwin – have lost their distinctiveness, as much of their personality has been eroded in the process.
Youngblood is most effective when the group either inserts some rock sensibilities into their work or when their pop tunes are just too catchy to resist. Songs like ‘Moving Along’ and ‘Lie to Me’ are undeniably enjoyable ditties, and there are enough likable hooks here to still impress their ardent admirers.
But as competently made as Youngblood may be for a pop record, it still comes off as middling because of its lack of truly unique flavours and textures. On the whole, while it may be a departure from their more edgy, emo-lite style, their fans will still find plenty to enjoy about this album, while more jaded listeners will still dismiss the group with a sneer.
Highlights: ‘Youngblood’, ‘Lie to Me’, ‘Moving Along’