Review Summary: The debut album for this five part alternative-folk group has more heart than headache, much more in fact. It's quite the promising start.
Other cities should be jealous of Seattle; or more specifically the Washington-based Sub Pop Records. The label has produced some of the most innovative acts in the last 20 years. Acts like Nirvana, The Shins, and The Postal Service all called Sub Pop home for many years. So every time the label picks up a new band, it's kind of a big deal. Recently they picked up Seattle's newest sweethearts, The Head and The Heart. So, could this Alt-Country/Indie/Folk quintet live up the labels unprecedented standard?
The album flows brilliantly, making it sometimes hard to realize when a new track has started. Right off the bat, the band fuses two up-tempo songs leading into the albums two best tracks. The first is "Ghosts" which strength comes in the bands piano player, Kenny Hensley. His swinging melodies drive the song through tales of old peers moving on; for better or worse. Lyrically, the band is clever yet simple, using their lyrics to charm rather than get too dramatic. In the song they sing:
One day we'll all be ghosts/tripping around someone else’s home/One day we'll all be found/No longer lost/We're just hanging around/One day we'll all be found
The next song is equally strong, if not greater than Ghosts. In "Down in the Valley" listeners get the first dose of Charity Thielen's vocal and violin traces, after listening to Jon Russell and Josiah Johnson trade off for most of the album. As the song conveys thoughts of living a life not-so-normal, and remaining loyal to your home town despite not being able to live there, the vocals become dissonant. Swelling piano and backup melodies begin to dominate the song, leaving the listener less concerned about the specifics, and engulfed in the feeling of the song. It's very well done.
As the album progresses, it shows several ups and downs. The ups come from album highlight "Lost in My Mind", which even MTV took time to give homage to in their Indie Music Spotlight in early 2011. The song sticks with album themes of home, places far from home, and family and friends. The band sings:
Oh, my Brother your wisdom is older than me/Well oh, my brother, don't you worry about me/How’s that brick laying coming?/How’s your engine running?/Is that bridge getting built?/Are your hands getting filled?/Won't you tell me my brother
It's moments like this that you realize The Head and The Heart are real people. They have the same feelings as anyone else who's spent too much time away from home. The song hits home and climaxes the album; which is the core issue with this debut album - the closing song is weak.
"Heaven Go Easy on Me" is perhaps the weakest song on the album. Its build is nice, but the melodic qualities of the previous nine songs are strangely missing, and the band seems lost as it sends you off. The instrumentation lacks energy and intensity for what appears to be an attempt at heavy subject matter. It’s the wrong way to end a very right debut.
So do The Head and The Heart please Sub Pop loyalists? I would say, yes, for the most part. It won't change music. It won't create masses of cult fans. It won't lead to many copycats. What it will do is please the ears, and give its listener some uplifting tunes to add to their regular repertoire. The debut album for this five part alternative-folk group has more heart than headache, much more in fact. It's quite the promising start.