Review Summary: Are you the kind of person who likes saying things like "I was listening to these guys before they got big"? If so, stop reading and just go get this album right now.
In the past few years, folk-influenced roots-rock has seen a large increase in popularity. Many people (myself included) watched this revival happen with an untrusting eye. Sure, the music is pleasant enough, but I couldn't help but think that it felt too manufactured, too...artificial. It's absurd on my part, I realize, because a lot of bands I listen to (and I would even argue most bands in general) have a very calculated look and style. Knowing that hasn't done much to change my mind, but at least I realize it.
Enter Denver's The Lumineers, a band poised for big things. Sure, they share the same DNA as their contemporaries in the genre: Americana-tinged folk, complete with the requisite banjos, hand-claps, and mandolins. However, there was something about this band that grabbed me in a way that none of the other bands to ride this trend had managed to do. After giving the album a few listens, I realized that "something" turned out to be a few things.
First and foremost, this album lacks the sheen of an album like "Sigh No More". Take first single--and song that gained them some attention in the first place--"Ho Hey". It's the type of song that has potential to be a huge single, yet there's no polish to the instruments, and the backing vocals sound ethereal, like they're coming from a totally different place. Or, if you'd rather, it sounds like a handful of people took some equipment into a barn and cranked out a song, and the backing vocalists are literally standing outside. There's a natural, inescapable energy to the song that carries it along through its two and a half minute run-time. Being that it was the first thing anyone knew about them, and it's such a fantastic song, they left themselves with quite the hard act to follow. Luckily, they manage to come very close throughout most of the album, even surpassing that song with one other.
The other thing that managed to push them past the rest of the pack for me is the fact that they manage to blend other genres into their sound as well. "Dead Sea", for example, sounds like what I imagine a song would sound like if David Gray were fronting Whiskeytown. It helps that Wesley Shultz's pretty yet somewhat raspy vocals call his to mind on occasion. Album opener "Flowers In Your Hair" falls more toward alt-country than roots-rock, followed by two rollicking songs in "Classy Girl" and "Submarines".
The two aforementioned tracks (Dead Sea, Ho Hey) follow, and then the aptly titled "Slow It Down" takes its place as the album centerpiece. It's also the moment that it becomes apparent that there is a lot more to this band than would appear on the surface. A beautiful, sparse ballad, it breaks what could have been the monotony of the album, while cleansing the palate for the second half. This is very smart sequencing, especially since it's followed by the strongest track on the album, "Stubborn Love". Yearning yet still optimistic, it's a stunner of a song, with lots of potential to be something huge. The album finishes out with four more strong tracks, including the baroque "Flapper Girl" and big ballad closer "Morning Song", which may have been a momentum killer elsewhere, but works perfectly as an album closer.
Some people are going to see this review and know right away that this is something they're interested in, while others may think this is something they wouldn't even bother with. If you fall into the latter category, I at least suggest you give it a shot. You may find yourself as surprised as I was. While I'm still not sold on the roots-rock revival, I've found something from it that has piqued my interest. Perhaps this will lead me to eventually go back and check some of it out with a more open mind. And if I still don't feel any different, I will still have this album to enjoy.