The Best Albums of 2015, #8

band018. Florence + the Machine, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful (Island)

I’ve been a big admirer of Florence Welch since her debut six years ago, but after the flamboyant grandiosity, I couldn’t help but wonder just how much more ostentatious she and her band could get before feeling like pure bombastic overkill. It’s just as important to hold back as it is to pour hour heart out. That’s how dynamics work, and I wanted Florence to experiment with restraint more in the future. But the lady is never about subtlety, and when the teaser clips for her third album came out, I thought, uh-oh. Florence is never, ever about lyrical and thematic subtlety, and the concept behind the lavishly titled How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful pointed toward towards another slab of sleek pop music with only one gear, and frankly I was already tired at the thought. But when I heard the entire album my suspicions were proven wrong. Sure, this album sounds big, but thanks to some savvy songwriting by Welch and some excellent, excellent production by markus dravs, there’s so much more room for these songs to breath than ever before. “Ship to Wreck” is a glorious example, which accentuates Florence’s sweeping, theatrical scope with a spacious mix that reminds me a lot of Stephen Street’s fork in the early-1990s. On the other side of the coin, “What Kind of Man” brilliantly uses the mellow-loud contrast, and then the song kicks in with that electric guitar riff, the energy is contagious. Some gorgeous orchestration accentuates “Queen of Peace”, “Delilah” is a wonderfully executed epic ballad, while “Make Up Your Mind” closes the record with a thunderous bang. Meanwhile “Third Eye” is the most powerful song Florence has ever written, as she eloquently encourages her forlorn friend to learn to love again before admitting it’s a problem she still struggles with herself. What cemented the impact of this album, however, was when I saw Florence + the Machine headline the Osheaga festival. I didn’t know what to expect, but within seconds the lady gave me goosebumps with a stunning, show-stopping performance in front of a captivated crowd of 40,000. Never have I seen an upper-tier artist throw themselves so much into a performance. It was a punishing, powerful display, and I looked on in awe, the hairs on my arm standing up. The pretentious singer-songwriter had transformed into a stadium rock superstar, throwing her body around, sprinting across the huge stage, jumping into the crowd, and of course, singing her heart out. Now when I back to the album, I envision that concert, and the music feels all the more powerful as a result. Who knows if she’ll ever top this, but I can’t wait to see her try. (Spotify) (YouTube)