Florence and the Machine
High as Hope


5.0
classic

Review

by SowingSeason STAFF
July 2nd, 2018 | 105 replies


Release Date: 2018 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Don't judge this album by its cover or its singles. Florence Welch has crafted quite the grower; a subtly beautiful piece that opens up a new door for the future of the band.

“At seventeen I started to starve myself.” This is the kind of startling admission that characterizes High as Hope, a record that shows us Florence Welch unveiled and more vulnerable than ever – belting out her darkest secrets in an echoed, cathedral-sounding room; almost as if to proclaim them to herself aloud for the first time. This is indeed a different kind of album for Welch, one that has resulted in some of her quietest moments that are somehow also her boldest and most confident. It may be more Florence than it is The Machine; more ‘Ship to Wreck’ than ‘Shake It Out’… but as she continues to go against the obvious wishes of her fans – a return to Lung’s electrifying stomp beats or Ceremonials’ cathartic, demon-cleansing choruses – she gets one thing very right here. High as Hope is a record with distinct character because Welch finally committed to a side in the battle of thunderous, bombastic pop versus subdued, confessional songwriting. How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful was a crossroads album that could not make up its mind and suffered for it. High as Hope may not be exactly what we were demanding from her, but it is jarringly intimate, and at this point the precise kind of risk that she needed to take.

Whereas previous efforts felt like an imposition of will, Florence and the Machine’s fourth album is the band's most graceful and free-flowing. The songwriting here feels honest and natural, with room for every track to breathe. Throughout High as Hope, just as much is accomplished through pauses and silence as through rhythm or melody; it’s an artful display of restraint that never quite saw the light of day on cookie-cutter belters like ‘Queen of Peace’ from this album’s predecessor. By contrast, gems like 'Grace' and 'The End of Love' feel liberated and unfurled, uninhibited by typical indie-rock structuring and instead opting for slow, airy introductions and atmospheres that wash over you. There’s a lot of maturation evident in Welch’s craft, and even if there’s no massive single for High as Hope to hang its hat on, the record more than makes up for it by being a true album, where songs bleed into one another and share meaning rather than clash discordantly.

By toning down the group’s traditional eccentricity, they’ve made it easier to accent their strengths. The synthy organs and distant horns that playfully intertwine behind Welch’s voice on ‘South London Forever’ are stunning; the way she bitingly emphasizes “Jesus Christ” on ‘Big God’ feels all the more venomous; and when things finally ramp up percussively and with sweeping strings on ‘Patricia’, it truly feels like you’ve arrived somewhere within High as Hope. As with any aesthetic turn towards the minimal, it becomes easier to highlight grander moments when you should so choose – and this record feels like a masterful execution of that. On the desolate closer ‘No Choir’, Welch – in a wispy voice – sums it all up perfectly: “And there would be no grand choirs to sing / No chorus could come in, about two people sitting doing nothing.” The passage seems to indicate that sometimes the most meaning isn’t derived from bombast and grandeur – or life’s biggest moments – but by the gradual pieces that make up the larger puzzle; the days we pass sitting next to each other on the couch that we deem forgettable but that tend to make up the majority of our lives. It’s the perfect metaphor for High as Hope, an album that dwells quietly in the corner – offering little in the way of big hooks or choruses – but gathers far more meaning out of its humble approach than we ever got from the line “Happiness, hit her like a train on a track.”

Heading into this album, it would have been easy to assume that we’d be in line for ten straightforward, acoustically driven indie-pop songs. High as Hope is more acoustic than electric, sure – and gone are a lot of the adrenaline-pumping beats that launched the group into stardom initially – but there’s also a tangible shift from the kind of all-too-logical progressions to something organic and completely free. There’s a raw, understated beauty that arrives rather unexpectedly on the heels of the indecisive How Big/Blue/Beautiful, and yet in perfect time, saving the outfit from becoming a parody of itself with cheap imitations of heyday hits. Here, there’s character that simply can’t be manufactured or extracted from a solitary, out-of-context moment. It’s a gorgeously fluent, continuous experience that needs to be digested as a whole. Welch wrote these songs to put a lot of the issues from her past to rest. Real, poignant emotion can be felt throughout – from the pain in her quivering lower register to the authoritative triumph of the sky-high notes she reaches so effortlessly. The easiest and most likely path to continued success for Welch and company would have been to attempt to re-create the spellbinding magic of Ceremonials or the anthemic qualities of Lungs. High as Hope is neither, and that makes it hands down the most forward-thinking album of Florence and the Machine’s career.




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user ratings (97)
Chart.
3.6
great


Comments:Add a Comment 
SowingSeason
Moderator
July 1st 2018


26969 Comments

Album Rating: 4.7

So this grew on me big time.



My only piece of advice is to just give it a chance, and then give it some more time after that. This is way better than the last effort, and tops Lungs for me too. Close to Ceremonials in terms of overall quality.

Digging: Collections Of Colonies Of Bees - HAWAII

Dewinged
July 1st 2018


10507 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

First listen I loved it, not better than Lungs for me though.

Digging: Black Fast - Spectre of Ruin

bgillesp
July 2nd 2018


5103 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I'll jam again cuz I liked it quite a bit

Digging: The Bamboos - Night Time People

SowingSeason
Moderator
July 2nd 2018


26969 Comments

Album Rating: 4.7

Upping to a 5 actually. This is incredible. At least on the same plane as my other AOTY contenders, possibly better.

Dammit this just floors me. I'm even getting Radiohead vibes from the production.

Papa Universe
July 2nd 2018


15985 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

you're easy to impress, aren't you?

Digging: Petrojvic Blasting Company - Over the Garden Wall

SowingSeason
Moderator
July 2nd 2018


26969 Comments

Album Rating: 4.7

Yes. But so are you. ;-)

Papa Universe
July 2nd 2018


15985 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

tru dat

LethalPaintball
July 2nd 2018


983 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

i did not expect to see this when i saw your soundoff, jeez

Digging: Svalbard - It's Hard To Have Hope

SowingSeason
Moderator
July 2nd 2018


26969 Comments

Album Rating: 4.7

yeah it shocked me how much this clicked

first few listens I legit felt it was her worst

conesmoke
July 2nd 2018


5738 Comments


Thats mad they got Noel Fielding for the cover

0GuyMan0
July 2nd 2018


1324 Comments


Oh boy. Could listen to her forever. Stoked for this.

Papa Universe
July 2nd 2018


15985 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

"Thats mad they got Noel Fielding for the cover"

oh there you are, comment of the year, been expecting you for a while now

trackbytrackreviews
July 2nd 2018


3361 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

sowing and overrating pop albums, name a more iconic duo



Just kidding, I don't agree with the rating at all but this is definitely her most free-flowing album to date, fantastic review too



Sad that there's nothing as anthemically good as the t/t from their last album though

theBoneyKing
July 2nd 2018


14917 Comments


Saw this on the front page and knew it would be a Sowing review

Digging: Deafheaven - Sunbather

JWT155
July 2nd 2018


14063 Comments


Woah sowing giving an album a 5

SowingSeason
Moderator
July 2nd 2018


26969 Comments

Album Rating: 4.7

You love it

IcelandRevel
July 2nd 2018


844 Comments


Ah cool, a new album from Lawrence Welk

TronaldDump
July 2nd 2018


568 Comments


I don't really care for most of the instrumentation on this, but her vocals are fucking phenomenal.

Digging: Deafheaven - Ordinary Corrupt Human Love

Asdfp277
July 2nd 2018


18330 Comments


queen of music

AngryJohnny
July 2nd 2018


774 Comments


come on man



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