“High as Hope” by Florence + the Machine
With their newest album, the English pop/rock band, led by the enigmatic singer-songwriter Florence Welch, creates an interesting departure from their typical gothic choral style. Gone is the drama and sheer intensity of records like “Ceremonials and Lungs,” and in its place a stripped-down and brutally honest Florence remains.
The album is an intensely personal reflection for Welch. She writes about her struggles with her family, drugs, love, and, as she bravely reveals in the opening lyrics of “Hunger,” an eating disorder. Florence’s writing is extremely intimate on this album and is further complemented by the pared-down accompaniment, allowing her powerful voice to really resonate with the listener. Unlike the other songs that seem to exist in the dark worlds of myth and magic for which Welch is known, the songs on “High as Hope” live in the here and now.
Songs like “June,” a touching tribute to the Pulse shooting with its heartfelt plea to “hold on to each other,” signal that the album is inherently political and, as the name suggests, uncharacteristically optimistic. Although the subject matters of songs on “High as Hope” are anything but “happy,” the album is an interesting reflection on Welch’s life as she accepts the mistakes she has made.
The band’s fourth studio album is a breath of fresh air in an increasingly chaotic world—something Florence believes is a very selfish undertaking. In the final song on the album, “No Choir,” she offers what seems to be an apology to the listener and a summation of what the album means to her: “But I must confess /I did it all for myself / I gathered you here/ To hide from some vast unnamable fear.” All in all, “High as Hope” is not only just an indication of a new Florence + the Machine, but of a new Welch.
Best Tracks: “Hunger,” “Big God,” “Patricia.”
“Be the Cowboy” by Mitski
Mitski’s fifth studio album is definitely the most distinct album from the New York-based Indie rock musician since she emerged on the scene in 2012. In “Be the Cowboy,” she combines the classical piano training displayed on Lush, her first album, with the synth-heavy guitar sound she perfected in the critically acclaimed “Bury Me at Makeout Creek.” In this way, “Be the Cowboy” is Mitski’s most mature album yet.
As a habitually private artist, Mitski’s newest body of work is a shockingly intimate foray into her mind and emotional state. The album consists of 14 two-minute songs (the most Mitski has ever put into a single album), with the total runtime at only around 30 minutes. The artist’s arrangement is strategic. It allows Mitski to rapidly experiment with her sound from song to song as she showcases her fantastic ability to capture raw and complex emotions in simple, beautiful lyrics.
From the upbeat, disco-tinged, existential dread of “Nobody” to the ghostly piano solo of “Two Slow Dancers,” Mitski’s compositions and impressive vocal range compliment her storytelling. The album is a thoughtful meditation on love and loneliness and primarily explains how Mitski experiences both as an artist. In the pounding and guitar-heavy “Remember My Name,” she pleads to an imagined lover, “Can you come to where I’m staying/ And make some extra love? / That I can save ‘til tomorrow’s show.” That sense of fatigue runs through the entirety of the album.
Directly after “Remember My Name” closes, Mitski can be heard letting out a pained sigh, right before the percussive intro of the upbeat “Me and My Husband.” This transition delightfully mimics the experience of Mitski performing the album live. Essentially, that rawness and close proximity to the listener is what Mitski wanted for “Be the Cowboy.” She states in an interview for Out magazine that she was inspired by the image of a singer, alone on a dark stage, lit only by a single spotlight. In “Be the Cowboy,” Mitski has crafted an album that feels both disconnected from reality and viscerally real at the same time.
Best Tracks: “Nobody,” “Two Slow Dancers,” “A Pearl.”