IVP - Strangely Dim - Lungs

June 10, 2011


Next weekend I will attend a concert by one of my favorite musical artists. This feels, oddly, both momentous and mundane. In my life I've attended maybe a handful of concerts, and most of those were free (usually a prerequisite). One was logistically complicated, including a multicar caravan of college friends, an overnight stay, and some relationship nightmares--but at the time we felt that it was worth it to see both Jennifer Knapp and Third Day. (I'll let you do your own math on how long ago that might have been.) They billed it as a worship service, which was weird to me--I considered it a concert, since I'd paid for it.


This year I discovered Florence + the Machine. Who knows why certain artists capture our attention; I grew up on Willie Nelson and the Forester Sisters, then for a while listened to lots of "Contemporary Christian Music" in college. Artists like Florence, who represent a much broader range of music, have sometimes felt like a reward at the end of a long process. At any rate, I've been surprised by how strongly I connected to Lungs, Florence's debut album. In some ways, listening to it has felt like therapy. 


florence.jpgPerhaps one reason Florence's lyrics captured my imagination so fully is connected to my lifelong enjoyment of science fiction and fantasy literature--where a properly oriented sense of realism makes an image of Snow White stitching up a circuit board seem both shocking and even a bit blasé, as is the case in "Blinding." I'll even go so far as to admit my fascination with the Twilight and Harry Potter stories. Indeed, some of the lyrics from Florence's songs sound to me like attempts to get onto movie soundtracks. "Cosmic Love" is kind of a musical embodiment of the Twilight Saga's New Moon; "Rabbit Heart" reminds me very strongly of Alice in Wonderland; "Dog Days are Over" was a kind of theme song for the movie Eat, Pray, Love. And, in fact, I first encountered Florence on the Eclipse soundtrack, on which her song "Heavy in Your Arms" melded magic with tragedy in the depiction of a deeply troubling love--a dark compulsion that ultimately drags both lovers down--entirely appropriate for the story of Bella, Jacob and Edward. I'm pretty sure a werewolf is part of the scene in her song "Howl."

The way in which she combines her odd, disturbing, dark stories and images with whimsy is probably another reason I've kept returning to Lungs. Part of the whimsy is in the instrumentation (as especially heard in "Cosmic Love," "Rabbit Heart" and "Blinding"), which includes the use of flowing harp arpeggios--unusual in some music genres, especially in rock-esque music. The effect is lovely, ethereal, sobering, hopeful and lofty. In other words, she satisfies my intellectual need for realism and my ego's need for a bit of creative self-indulgence. For instance, when she sings "No more dreaming / like a girl so in love with the wrong world," I find myself questioning whether I need to change my perspective on things a little. When she sings about being a "rabbit-hearted girl" who needs to be "lion-hearted" I think of Alice in Wonderland and courage. And when she sings of the dog days being over and happiness hitting her "like a train on the tracks," I am conflicted--does such a violent happiness, when it happens, really make us happy? Are we sometimes afraid of embracing something good out of fear of losing the familiar? Is there a downside to being surprised by joy?

At the same time, it's bewitching to think of being hunted down by happiness, instead of endlessly seeking it out, only to be met by disappointment.

But much of what Florence writes about is visceral as well as ethereal, and the title of the album should be considered fair warning. Lungs, hearts, eyes, the cosmos, death, sex, depression, happiness, disillusionment and freedom all figure in. Even God makes an appearance at the end of the album. And while I have a feeling it's a strategic inclusion, the lyrics are also a simple yet worthy reminder: when things are rough, when "sometimes I feel like throwin' my hands up in the air, / I know I can count on you.../ you've got the love I need to see me through."

All that to say, seeing her live should be quite an experience.

Posted by Christa Countryman at June 10, 2011 12:57 PM Bookmark and Share | TrackBack

Comments are closed for this entry.

Get Email Updates

You'll get an email whenever a new entry is posted to Strangely Dim

Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

Rebecca Larson is a writer/designer/creative type who has infiltrated IVP's web department, where she writes and edits online content. She enjoys a good pun and loves the smell of freshly printed books.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

Subscribe to Feeds