Florence + The Machine
High as Hope
(Island **½ stars)

Florence Welch was that classmate who loudly proclaimed to be "high on life," perhaps the premier secular artist with the least druggy spiritual leanings of the summer festival boom. Like Coldplay, she has a way of imbuing forgettable tunes with a symphonic grandeur (and she certainly has the edge over Chris Martin in vocal conviction). But her songs themselves cry out for Kate Bush's weirdness or U2's sky-high refrains or Tori Amos' gumption to rewrite Slayer. 2015's hit "Ship to Wreck" was worthy of these forebears and has tuneful follow-ups here, like the "Like a Prayer"-channeling "Hunger" and "Big God," which leaves plenty of room for Welch's humongous voice to take flight. When the chief selling point of High as Hope is that it feels less endless than the previous How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, it's clear she's the most normal weirdo in pop. — Dan Weiss

Gorillaz
The Now Now
(Warners, ***½ stars)

Damon Albarn's eagerness to collaborate has made recent Gorillaz albums rather diffuse: almost every song on last year's Humanz featured a guest or two. The Now Now, Humanz's surprisingly quick follow-up, benefits from its focus. Albarn works with Jamie Ford of Simian Mobile Disco, and the only featured guests are Gorillaz favorite Snoop Dogg with house music legend Jamie Principle on the squelchy "Hollywood," and soul-jazz guitarist George Benson on the groovin' "Humility." (Graham Coxon, Albarn's Blur bandmate, sneaks in some guitar on the drifty "Magic City," too, and in the band's Jamie Hewlett-guided cartoon-narrative, bassist Murdoc has been replaced by Ace from The Powerpuff Girls series — we'll see who shows up on screen when Gorillaz  plays the Wells Fargo Center in October.)

The Now Now may not have a single as immediate and extroverted as early hits such as "Clint Eastwood" or "Feel Good Inc.," although "Souk Eye," "Humility" and "Sorcererz" come close. It's a slinky album full of retro-synth sounds and Albarn's disaffected vocals — he's often singing of feeling displaced in America but the perky tunes belie his melancholy. — Steve Klinge

Kinky Friedman
Circus of Life
(Echo Hill *** stars)

It can be easy to overlook, what with such notorious provocations as "They Ain't Makin' Jews Like Jesus Anymore" and naming his old band the Texas Jewboys — not to mention  that suggestive first name — but Kinky Friedman has always been a serious writer. He's part of the stout Texas tradition of probing, stubbornly individualistic troubadours.

That's starkly evident on Circus of Life, his first album of new material in four decades. This is the Kinkster at his most intimate and open-hearted. The acoustic-based arrangements are ultra-spare, better to frame Friedman's often hushed, conversational vocals, and the songs unfold in a relaxed, unhurried manner. The liveliest track is the jaunty "Autographs in the Rain (Song to Willie)," a tribute to his longtime friend Willie Nelson. The overall style recalls that of one of Friedman's contemporaries, the late Guy Clark — Circus of Life is imbued with both gravity and grace.

And Jesus turns up again. "Jesus in Pajamas" is set in a Denny's in Dallas in the wee hours. But there are no cheap laughs here. Rather, it's Friedman offering a story that forces the listener to ponder the real meaning of empathy and faith. — Nick Cristiano

With Brian Molnar, 8 p.m. July 16 at the Sellersville Theater, 24 W. Temple Ave., Sellersville. Tickets: $25, $39.50. 215-257-5808.