Review Summary: Subpop’s latest gets friendly with the greatest trait and pitfall of every cutesy indie band: heavier on heart than head
A minute and a half into The Head and the Heart
, a dog barks and a cat meows. Before the house-pet intrusion, mind you, things are going just dandy
- but all of the sudden, you’re confused and running to the back door to let man’s best friend back into the house. You certainly could
find it all appropriate knowing that the song is named ‘Cats and Dogs’, but when you’re a band as hammy as The Head and the Heart are, it’s best not to push your limits. Quarter note rimshots, half-time woodblock, upbeat acoustic downstrokes and catchy, intentionally familiar harmonies give the song a charmingly kitschy vibe that threatens to become too cute at any given moment - and if Protest the Hero taught us anything, it’s that being too tacky is just one cat’s mew away. It’s this blurry line that The Head and the Heart tiptoe along throughout the entire length of this eponymous collection - and while the trite side of things threatens to topple the whole thing over, most songs escape The Head and the Heart
unscathed and frankly, quite good.
Tracks like ‘Down in the Valley’ and single ‘Lost in My Mind’ are perfect examples of The Head and the Heart playing to their strengths. The remarkably nostalgic atmosphere both songs provide immediately tug on the listener’s heartstrings and threaten to soon be songs defining a rich, wealth of memories yet to happen. It’s entirely manipulative, truly: a perfectly gravelly vocalist sings “you’re already home where you feel love” over a distinct, poppy brand of indie-folk that has the power to appeal to fans of truer-to-form folk and silly radio indie-rock alike. It’s hard to go wrong. Surely they knew what they were doing - singing “I just wanna die with the one I love!
” in three-part harmony over thumping percussion is a sure fire get-rich-quick scheme for any band in this class and so as long as you’re not Mumford & Sons and you actually mean
what you’re singing, you’re going to win people over. The sincerity absent from much of their peers’ efforts is the vehicle that drives much of The Head and the Heart
and it’s the band’s feel-good warmth that make any of these perfect-3rd harmonies and folky crescendos more than just good music theory.
But for every moment that The Head and the Heart breach the confines of tolerable twee, The Head and the Heart
becomes a little less convincing. It’s this aforementioned blurry line that comes into focus every so often preventing the band’s nostalgic songwriting from being drop-dead brilliant. Until the band finds more than one lyrical subject matter and writes a song as good as ‘Cats and Dogs’ without dashing its chances with animal sounds, we’re left with a band still embracing the genre’s most bittersweet and common attribute: a touch too little head, a tad too much heart.