Christmas songs are as big a part of the season as crowded shopping malls and spiked eggnog, but there are only so many times you can hear “Jingle Bells” and “Deck the Halls” without wanting to wretch just a little. Here are some suggestions for compiling a Yuletide playlist that perhaps isn’t quite so musty. Much of the music can be purchased or ordered locally at Guestroom Records, Size Records and the like.
Record Store Day (RSD) has become an audiophile’s Christmas since its inception in 2008, celebrating independently owned record stores with exclusive titles and limited-edition releases from everyone from The Beatles to Arcade Fire.
Pre-2008, only a few knew of Florence Welch of Florence + The Machine.
After the release of “Kiss with a Fist” in June that year, followed by
“Dog Days Are Over” that December, few could contain themselves awaiting
the release of her first album, “Lungs.”
The English singer was met with enthusiasm and insta-fame for her ethereal, enormous voice and playfully edgy lyrics in that 2009 release.
Quickly, she nabbed nominations and awards, and since then, the world has waited with baited breath for her return, for this machine with which everyone fell in love with. Would she fall flat? Did she use up all of that quirky tone and hard-hitting emotionality present in “Lungs”?
No. In fact, if anything, she's lived up to her bold rep in the new “Ceremonials.”
Aptly titled, this album is her love letter to pain and suffering. She establishes the church of music, rooted in its creator, nature. She boldly wrestles with the perplexity that is higher power, all the while delicately maintaining a human connection and bridging the ever-pressing, soul-searching questions that plague us all, that connect us all.
From the start, particularly “Shake It Out,” she quickly establishes what's on her mind: “Regrets collect like old friends / Here to relive your darkest moments / And all of the ghouls come out to play / And every demon wants his pound of flesh / It's always darkest before the dawn.”
If you can't relate to that, then you're not human. And if you aren't human, you should get to know Welch and her music. You might learn something.
She claims to “like to keep things to myself,” yet she's pretty damn clear about struggling and the inability “to dance with a devil on your back.”
After she reveals her struggles and desire to overcome, she descends into the exploration of “What the Water Gave Me.” It's a breakdown, and her armor is clearly cathedral-style orchestral music and harps, as well as emotional words of affirmation.
Her sentimental commitment in “Never Let Me Go” is hauntingly beautiful. She begins to explore her newfound belief structure: “In the arms of the ocean, so sweet and so cold / And all this devotion I never knew at all / And the crashes of heaven, for a sinner released / In the arms of the ocean ... never let me go / Well, the arms of the ocean delivered me.”
Welch's sophomore album continues to weave through the ups and downs indicative to any growing relationship in “Breaking Down,” “All This and Heaven Too” and “Strangeness and Charm.”
Rounding out the disc’s deluxe edition is “Bedroom Hymns,” where she delves into the business of altars, confessions and selfish prayers — the kind of thing one might have late at night in the privacy of their own safe haven. She admits she's not “looking for absolution,” and she “can't get enough” of the attempts at personal gain via her newfound strength.
The undeniable romantic entanglement with life and religion culminate in a predictable and relatable ebb and flow.
Ultimately, however, she proclaims: “It's over, and I'm going under / But I'm not giving up, I'm just giving in.”
Although some already have dubbed “Ceremonials” as turbulent, I argue that it mirrors life, and I look forward to Florence + the Machine's next release, as she explores her faith by way of music and establishes a deeper connection with all who relate. —Jenn Scott