If you couldn’t tell as of late, I have been sort of on a little bit of a folk music kick. A lot of my previous reviews (Civil Wars, O’death, Dodos) all have either a very heavy or slight folk feel to them. I tend to get into ruts and just stay there for a little bit. I’ll go through a period where I listen to a lot of metal, then a lot of classic rock, and then ambient indie music. Apparently right now it is folk. So, I went in search of some new folk style music I had never really heard of or listened to. For me, that doesn’t mean it is all that underground or unheard of, but it is something that will feed my need for folk style music at the moment.
This is the first release from The Head and the Heart. They actually have quite an interesting history on how they became a band. First of all, they have not existed all that long. They first got together in 2009. From there, they self-recorded and released their album. They managed to sell 10,000 copies through local record stores, concerts, and simply word of mouth before ever signing to a major record label. DIY indeed! In November of 2010 they were picked up by Sub Pop Records, which remastered and once again released this album as their debut release. They did manage to pick up some fairly major shows along the way as well. They have openned for the likes of Vampire Weekend, Deathcab for Cutie, The Decemberists, and (uh oh) Dave Matthews Band. With a history like that already, it’ll be a wonder if they stay underground very long. Of course, if you read pitchfork’s review of the album, they already have them tagged as the sellout folk band of the year. I, however, would like to think I’m slightly more open-minded. Therefore, I sat down to give this album a listen.
The Head and the Heart have a good folk type of sound; however, it seems very well polished with a slightly more pop feel. I can’t help but think this is one thing that keeps some people from really enjoying this album. They do manage to have a very full sound to their music. One of the ways they accomplish this is through utilizing harmonizing. The harmonizing is really nice and thick sounding because it is a three part harmony most of the time. Josiah Johnson, Jon Russell, and Charity Rose Thielen all handle the harmonizing jobs. I think having the two guy tone combined with the single girl vocal really comes together nicely in the end.
Another thing this band does really well is keep you guessing. Songs like “Sounds like Halllelujah” change a lot through out their progression. It starts off almost as a singer songwriter feel. Then, the song goes through a transition that almost sounds like a song off the Beatles. It, however, then goes through one more transition that is almost like a folk gang sing-a-long. The entire band comes in singing, “For the first time, sounds like hallelujah for the first time”. This is all before it ends quietly. The entire song is just a great journey that almost leaves you feeling like you listened to three different songs.
The song “Coeur D’Alene” is one of my favorite songs on the album. It has a really fun tone to the entire song. The vocals are a little more low-key and muted, but the piano and drums are up beat. Therefore it has a light pop feel without being overwhelming. It’s a nice little dichotomy. There is some harmonizing that helps the song seem really smooth. This is especially present on the chorus. Another song like this that I really enjoy is “Lost in My Mind”. The chorus of this one once again feels a little like a folk sing-a-long; however, I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. This is once again heavy on the harmonies, piano, drums, and bass; however, they all blend together quite nicely. This song has a little more of a folk anthemn feel to it.
One of my least favorite songs on the album is “Winter Song”. It is a slower song on the album which really doesn’t bother me; however, as I said earlier, I like that a lot of their songs have a lot of interesting transitions in them. This song stays at a pretty similar pace throughout its entirety, then the final vocals are handled by Charity on her own. I really like her vocals when they are blended in with the other two male vocals; however, I really don’t think she has a strong enough vocal ability for it to stand on its own. They don’t really venture out into having her sing alone too often, which I think is the right route to take.
In the end, I think The Head and the Heart have created a really good album. Keeping in mind that this band has been together for less than two years, I am quite impressed with the album they have produced. I think they could have a very strong future together. This has a little bit more of a pop sound to it than some of the other folk focused bands out there right now, but I think it is a nice addition to this prospering sub-genre. I would definitely recommend picking this one up for something light and enjoyable to listen to while you drive or sit by the pool this summer.
Teacher Grade: B+
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