Category: Florence & the Machine

Almost Acoustic Christmas is a gauge of rock's past, future

Jane's Addiction is a parody of itself, while Black Keys and Mumford & Sons wipe out pretenses; Florence + the Machine and Foster the People are embraced.

Florence + the Machine

Guys with guitars roamed freely Sunday night at the Gibson Amphitheatre, where bands including Jane's Addiction, the Black Keys and Death Cab for Cutie took part in KROQ-FM's annual Almost Acoustic Christmas concert. But throughout this sold-out six-hour marathon — the second of two presented by the influential modern-rock station, after Saturday's bill with Blink-182, Social Distortion and others — those durable guitar heroes were shadowed by another musical figure. Witness the rise of the resourceful tech-head, hunched over a keyboard or sampler, tapping out newfangled sounds with near-scientific precision.

Some groups at the show had room for guitar wizards and computer geeks in their lineups; others staged a production around one or the other. Taken as a whole, though, Almost Acoustic Christmas felt like an investigation of where rock is today, what it's made of and what it should do.

One firm conclusion among the many more half-answers: Jane's Addiction has finally turned into the parody act it's been threatening to become for years. Headlining Sunday's show (albeit to a significantly thinned-out crowd), this on-again/off-again L.A. outfit interspersed hits from its original late-'80s incarnation with material from this fall's “The Great Escape Artist,” Jane's Addiction's first studio album since 2003. Yet it all sounded equally terrible, Perry Farrell's adenoidal vocals meandering aimlessly atop Dave Navarro's bludgeoning power chords. Worse still were Farrell's clownish between-song ramblings about Christmas in the era of Occupy Wall Street, which made the presumably unintentional argument that the once-ubiquitous character of the preening rock god has lost all but his comedic value.

PHOTOS: KROQ Almost Acoustic Christmas

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Album review: Florence + the Machine's 'Ceremonials'

Album review: Florence + the Machine's 'Ceremonials'

Sometimes the toughest challenge for a singer like Florence Welch is to learn how to wield the kind of pulmonary power that can make the heavens quake. On Florence + the Machine’s 2009 debut, the fittingly named “Lungs,” the flame-haired countess of theatrical art-pop voraciously tore into songs with her throaty wail. In wide-screen vistas like “Dog Days Are Over,” Welch would chew scenery while the Machine valiantly toiled to get a musical word in edgewise. For all her prodigious talent, it sometimes didn’t seem Welch was listening to the very song she was singing, she was so busy filling it with noise.

On her follow-up, “Ceremonials,” Welch has struck a fantastic and necessary balance. She’s found a way to honor her Bjorkian appetites for lavish orchestral spectacle while finding the depth and subtlety of her voice. She’s become a better actor, a keener listener and still manages to let it rip on occasion. But she also knows when to hush up, like at the close of “Spectrum,” when Tom Monger’s harp gorgeously flutters and dips around her.

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The songs stuck in Florence Welch's head

The singer for Florence + the Machine, whose ‘Ceremonials' is out Tuesday, has been listening to Beyoncé, Suicide, Freddie King and more.

Florence Welch

Florence + the Machine's ethereal punk rock blues debut was one of the more unlikely breakthrough albums of 2009. It propelled singer Florence Welch (a virtual one-woman show) to gold status in America and pushed the redheaded 25-year-old onto magazine covers and best-of-year lists. 

On her new album, “Ceremonials,” the British singer doubles down on the Voice that propelled her breakout power-soul single, “Dog Days Are Over,” by layering her vocals to create choir-like depth. The record, produced by Paul Epworth, is one of the most anticipated of the fall season, and comes out Tuesday. 

REVIEW: Florence + the Machine's 'Ceremonials'

Florence, a self-professed music geek, recently spoke to Pop & Hiss about her listening habits. 

How did you educate yourself in music growing up?

I went through a real grunge phase through friends I was hanging out with, and boys I fancied, and having all the brothers who were into skateboard music. And then I think what was really influential growing up in South London was there was a big college scene, and going to the adult college parties before I had even gone to art college — I was hearing Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, Talking Heads, Tom Waits, Kate Bush, Motown, northern soul mixed with ELO and things like that.

And I was going to a lot of live performances, as well, at squat parties with garage punk art bands — and I think that really influenced me and my musical tastes around that time. A lot of time was spent listening to music with my dad in the car. We had tapes, and we'd be listening to Love and the Smiths and Velvet Underground — especially that Love song, “Andmoreagain.”

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On eve of 'Ceremonials,' Florence Welch talks about 'Breaking Down'

Florence2
On Florence Welch’s new album as Florence + the Machine, “Ceremonials,” the British singer expands the broader-than-the-heavens voice that propelled her onto the charts with her breakout power-soul single, “Dog Days Are Over.” Welch burst into American consciousness with a show-stopping performance of the song at the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards, then saw her debut album, “Lungs," go gold in America. Her pair of devastating performances on “Saturday Night Live” pushed the red-headed 25-year-old onto magazine covers and best-of-year lists, and drove anticipation for a follow-up album even higher.

"Ceremonials," which comes out Tuesday, is a bigger, heavier, more pop-friendly release and features anthems such as "No Light, No Light" that are as overpowering as "Dog Days Are Over." Welch recently described her approach on the new record as "incorrigible maximalism," and it's a pretty apt description.

But, as well, there are a few tighter, less bombastic songs, the best of which is "Breaking Down," a thrilling string-and-piano Roy Orbison-esque ode to fear that illustrates Welch's increasingly welcome sense of restraint. 

We caught up with Welch via phone while she was being ferried around London to various appearances. Pop & Hiss will have more from our conversation in coming (dog) days. 

I had a beautiful moment this morning as I was driving to work, the sunroof open, with your new song “Breaking Down.” How did that song come about?

It was funny. That was one of those songs that I just started humming and then the words came out. Often, I won’t know what I’m going to sing about until I actually step up to record, and you just have to follow this freeflowing train of thought -- these images of fear that you have as a child, something in the room, something for a child to fear, and then as an adult, that being there too as a creeping depression. It’s something quite sinister, but also something quite familiar. And I guess I just wanted to try and take that and turn it on its head, and make it something beautiful and uplifting as maybe a way to tackle it. It’s one of those sad songs with happy tunes.

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Florence & the Machine debut 'What the Water Gave Me'

Flo

Florence Welch has held true to the promise of a "peek at something very special" for her fans by unveiling the first track lifted from the follow-up to her hit debut, “Lungs.”

The British songstress took to her official website Tuesday to debut "What the Water Gave Me" from the currently untitled disc. Produced by Paul Epworth and recorded at London's Abbey Road studios, the disc is set for a Nov. 7 release in the U.K., with a Stateside release to follow in the same month.

"What the Water Gave Me" has Welch sticking to what made “Lungs” and singles such as “Dog Days Are Over” and "Kiss With a Fist" such a hit: soaring gospel-rooted harmonies and tribal chants on top of ethereal harp strings and intense lyrics.

"Lungs" debuted at No. 2 on the U.K. album charts and was the biggest-selling release for a new artist in 2009. After it was quietly released in the States in October 2009, her plum debut on American television, at the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards, yielded a massive sales surge -- shooting the disc from No. 44 to No. 14 on the U.S. Billboard 200 charts. The disc has sold 738,000 copies in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan.

Watch the video for the song after the jump:

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A look back at Dinner House M; a look forward to Hollywood Tower's concert series

Dinner In Friday's Calendar, two night life stories touch on some very different corners of L.A.'s music culture. First is a long lament at the closing of the Historic Filipinotown late-night staple Dinner House M, a favorite haunt of Echo Park musicians with a bad idea in their heads at 1:30 am. Members of Health, Puro Instinct and the minds behind the infamous Wednesday night Grown party give fond recollections.

Second is a quick survey of a neat secret-show series happening on the rooftop of the Hollywood Tower apartment complex. Bands like Mumford & Sons, TV on the Radio and Foster the People have played sets to no more than a few dozen people on the French-Norman castle rooftop, booked as an amenity for residents and sponsored by the rock station 98.7 FM. Florence & the Machine drops by on June 14, but if you want to go, the only ways in are to win a station contest -- or sign a lease.

RELATED:

Dinner House M is closing (the hipster apocalypse is nigh)

Live review: Florence & the Machine at the Wiltern

Live review: Mumford & Sons at the Palladium

-- August Brown

 

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