The Head and The Heart follow their surprising hit debut with the aptly titled Let’s Be Still.
Sub Pop, 2013
5.2 / 10
I may have been one of the only music critics that enjoyed The Head and The Heart‘s self-titled debut. Many popular music publications (*cough* Pitchfork *cough*) rightfully pointed out the band’s sloppy lyric writing — an age old trade meaning to work on a rail car or long hours. The band also showed a fondness for country-livin’ clichéd phrases to make them sound rootsier for a Midwestern audience yet sounded corny in the same breath. And despite these things, I was hand-clappin’, foot-stompin’ along with the folksy harmonies and country-tinged rock. With their sophomore album, Let’s Be Still, I’m finding that harder to do.
Let’s Be Still is released directly by Sub Pop this time — their self-titled debut sold 10,000 copies independently before the label picked up the band and redistributed their debut to become one of their best-selling records to date. Expect the same for Let’s Be Still. Fans happy with The Head and The Heart will likely enjoy Let’s Be Still because as the title suggests, the Seattle, Washington based band is quite comfortable in its territory of Americana and folk-based rock. Lucky for them, that’s all the rage right now, so WHY try to do anything different? Well, there are a few subtle but very damaging cha…cha…changes.
After two strong songs to start the album, the band decides to surprise its listeners by turning into a different band. Yes, David Copperfield came into the studio, covered them in a huge blanket, and revealed a synth-pop loving troupe. Paired with violinist Charity Rose Thielen’s vocals, the song “Springtime” resembles your favorite electro-pop group of the week whether that’s Au Revoir Simone or CHVRCHES. The song’s woozy synthesizers then lead into the spikier synths of “Summertime” that could leave you asking, ‘When did I stop listening to The Head and The Heart and Young Galaxy instead?’ Of course, the joke there is that fans of The Head and The Heart and their brand of anthemic folk don’t have a clue who Young Galaxy are.
Underneath the forced pompous overtone, the band’s folk sound can be heard very faintly while Thielen’s vocals completely betray any semblance of it being synth-pop. The way she sings, “I will sing as your canary bird” — why ‘bird’ is needed to clarify ‘canary’ is beyond me — but pronouncing bird as ‘boouurd’ as if she’s swapped her hipster old-timey settler’s cap for a rabbi’s hat is absurdly comical. Unfortunately, this rough transition to another genre works against the band when they return to their tried-and-true folk ramblings. Their meager attempt of experimenting outside their musical range exposes the staleness of their enthusiastic campfire-to-the-stage songs. Take the album single, “Shake”, as an example: handclaps, some southern electric guitar and piano, a sing-along moment of “The wind keeps pushing you to me,” a cymbal crashing push to the climax that introduces the female vocals in the song’s final seconds. Yes, it has the ingredients of being a Midwestern classic and its entirely formulaic rather than being surprising.
Other songs only prove to be even more tired like the album’s title track that doesn’t express anything new. Yes, life moves fast, and you want it to slow down…because of all the fanfare, right? Sure, “Let’s Be Still” is a lovely radio song that you wouldn’t necessarily skip, but it’s not life affirming or one that you’ll be seeking out past a radio listen. The Head and The Heart’s drive toward rousing sing-alongs results in the band attempting Beatles-esque grandiose on “10,000 Weight In Gold” that proves The Head and The Heart are capable musicians, but their insistence on creating artificial emotion in their songs is nauseating and detracts from the album’s finer moments like the 6-minute closer, “Gone”. “Gone” recalls their self-titled debut’s sincere (although somewhat clumsy) songwriting and ends Let’s Be Still on a high-note. If the band starts writing with their hearts rather than their heads, I think they’ll move forward as something special rather than a poor man’s substitute for The Lumineers or Mumford & Sons.