Florence & The Machine's 'Big God' Finds The Perfect Balance Between Pop Music & Art

21 June 2018 | 2:30 pm | Ross Clelland

A dramatic and entertaining affair.

Sometimes it can be a worry when people start describing their pop music as ‘art’. Because art can be everything from da Vinci to that painting of dogs playing poker. Even allowing they’re dogs. Playing poker. You gotta admit, that’s pretty amazing. Or not. What Florence + The Machine make is art, certainly. But it never forgets its purpose as entertainment as well.

Big God (Republic/UMA) has all the drama the title would suggest: heavy-on-the-left-hand rumbling piano to begin, building with the drums getting a bit martial and then tribal as Ms Welch swoops and whoops across the landscape as this century’s best effort at being a new Kate Bush does so gloriously. Current credibly good name to drop, Kamasi Washington is also apparently present, hiding among the trees in that little wood over the left.

Sophie’s ‘art’ is even further out along that line toward and even past Bjork’s jagged landscapes and such. The Scots-via-LA performer presents what’s more an atmosphere and psychological study than verse-chorus-verse. Is It Cold In The Water? (Future Classic) has a title that would suit being a Nick Cave song, allowing for its all-electronic construction - a desperation as the synths chop and cut at the ice melting behind Cecile Believe’s operatic crystalline trills as she runs to or from something. It’s melodrama, it’s an anxiety attack, with a little death – in both the literal and French definitions – going on as you get dragged into the nervy maelstrom of it.

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The art of The Bamboos on Broken (Pacific Theatre) is one of those big walls of graffiti spraypainting, thoughtfully put together and actually with message, before some fuckwit kid comes and overtags it three nights later. And that’s kinda the point. This round’s guest vocalist, Urthboy, who’s the utterly right choice for the job being done here, offers a fairly clear message of how not to fuck up your kids, before Kylie Auldist sweeps in for the chorus. Once again, they’ve made something with dollops of real soul among the hip hop and R&B stylings. They are a sturdy unit.

Of course, the argument of just how much of an ongoing performance art project Father John Misty is continues. We’ve reached the point where we can agree that Josh Tillman might have a few genuine issues, but can still ask just how much of God’s Favourite Customer (Sub Pop) is old mate getting ever closer to being the rock and roll equivalent of Joaquin Phoenix on David Letterman’s show a few years back. Funny? Philosophical commentary? Or just plain irritating? You decide.

Anyway, the title track of the album is the half-schnickered self-analysis that occurs as a watery sun comes up over a long night in Manhattan as it begins as a typically ‘70s Elton John-flavoured ramble around the dirty streets before getting all big and Beatley. Although, more correctly, its more the bombast of him doing the pastiche that was ELO doing The Beatles, as was the fashion around 1976.

Gooch Palms have always been closer to the finger-painting end of spectrum, although some male viewers will probably not want to think too hard about what they’re smearing on the walls here. Those probably being the same males who arc up and get all antsy and uncomfortable when their partner asks them to nip down the 7-11 for a pack of pads. Yes, Busy Bleeding (Ratbag) does screech and buzz at you in their familiar fashion, but does – perhaps surprisingly - make a perfectly valid point about being a woman. The Palmies’ international reputation still grows, this Youtubery already getting that ultimate ubiquitous accolade in the comments of ‘Come to Brazil!’. So many Brazilians, so little time.

Little May continue to be one of those little engines that could, overachieving overseas more and more, and even entering the creative circle of The National and other such bands in the mainstream of the alternative. Thing is, about a year-or-so back, the three became two as guitarist Annie Hamilton amicably exited the combo to concentrate on her work as an artist and already well-regarded fashion designer. Thankfully, Ms Hamilton didn’t leave music entirely behind, and the first example with just her name on it is Fade (Twig). It’s a lovely shimmering human-scale thing, quite beautiful in the way it all falls together. The question now is how she chooses to balance all her creative outputs. She’s seems most capable of getting that particular balancing act together.

Hey Geronimo also had a guitarist wander off into the sunset as they were putting their next thing together. Did they go for a replacement? No, they took entirely modern - and somewhat scary - approach of letting the technology do his job. Thus, the guitar lines of Disconnect (Independent) as the result of letting the Ableton software get creative on its own. Yes human musician friends, you’re apparently on the way to being made entirely redundant by the AI. That the song’s subject matter is the distraction of technology just makes it all the more ironic and/or smartarse. Perhaps counter-intuitively, the sound of it is an odd mix of the traditional and modern, that almost seaside pier feeling of early Blur (that probably relates to mid-period Kinks for older readers…). I, for one, welcome our new App-based overlords.