Release Date: Oct 15, 2013
Record label: Sub Pop
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Folk
There are a lot of reasons why The Head and the Heart’s sophomore album, Let’s Be Still, lives up to its name. The jaunty pace with which the band’s self-titled debut sauntered all but required a bit of a reining-in, even if songs like “Ghosts” bled so much jovial zip they were hard not to toe-tap along with. On Let’s Be Still, the warm vocal tandem of Josiah Johnson and Jonathan Russell is pared down to its core vibrancy, as two soul-sapped, lovelorn bellowers more casually croon their wishes and woes.
Clearly, there’s something in the water over in Seattle. Whatever your thoughts on Starbucks coffee, this relatively small US West Coast city has produced a consistent stream of successful alternative rock acts that few other locations can match, ranging from titans of the global pantheon (Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana) to some of today’s most critically revered performers (Fleet Foxes, Modest Mouse). Although the fact Kenny G also hails from Seattle does prove there is an exception that proves this rule, too.
Recorded in Seattle, Washington and mixed in Bridgeport, Connecticut, the sophomore outing from rags to riches indie folk collective Head and the Heart sounds like the product of two coast lines. The band’s 2011 debut introduced an unpretentious, musically astute gang of pub-spawned troubadours who liked their country soft and their rock & roll pretty, and the lush and languid Let’s Be Still doubles down on that esthetic, offering up a 13-track road trip of a record that’s built on a foundation of breezy West Coast pop and propelled by easy, East Coast Americana. The group’s predilection for heartfelt, Avett Brothers-meets-Fleet Foxes roots rock is apparent right out of the gate with “Homecoming Heroes” and “Another Story,” both of which utilize familiar folk-rock architecture to spin earnest and familiar tales concerning the two body parts from which the group takes its name.
This second release from the Seattle, WA folk-rock outfit begins on an appropriately autumnal note with "Homecoming Heroes' — its delicate piano/violin melody augmented by a strong, driving beat. It's a similar formula employed with great success by many of the Head and the Heart's Northwest peers, although there's much more refinement on Let's Be Still. While founders Jonathan Russell and Josiah Johnson do seem to come from the Simon & Garfunkel school of songcraft, an appreciation of California pop also comes out in tracks like "Summertime," energetically sung by the group's sole female member: Charity Rose Thielen.
In 2011, Seattle’s The Head and The Heart captured an impressive number of hearts and ears via their self-funded, self-recorded, self-titled debut. They sold 10,000 copies of the album before even signing with Sub Pop, and afterward, became one of the label’s fastest selling debuts. Given that the Billboard charts continue to stack up with like-minded earnest, folky Americana recordings — certainly the first time in decades a trend of this sort has been so dominant — the band arrived at exactly the right time.
You can’t blame The Head And The Heart for sticking with the familiar on their second album: the Seattle six-piece sold 10,000 copies of their self-titled debut before topping 300,000 when Sub Pop re-released it in 2011. Though ‘Let’s Be Still’ is more countrified and pensive (subjects include the Sandy Hook school shooting, broken families and soldiers returning from war), the same template remains. This is glossy Americana, mixing The Avett Brothers with Edward Sharpe And The Magnetic Zeros, its piano- and violin-led crescendos emulating old-timey grandeur.
"The world's just spinning a little too fast," declare these Seattle folk rockers on album number two, earnestly pumping the brakes. Their strummy singalongs make them kin to the Mumfords, their choral singing to neighbors Fleet Foxes. But they're most compelling when the harmonies fray ("Fire/Fear") and whenever marble-mouth singer-violinist Charity Rose Thielen grabs the mic ("Summertime").
When The Head and the Heart self-released their debut album back in ‘09, who could’ve guessed they’d sell over 10,000 copies by word of mouth alone? That got the attention of Sub Pop, the label who snatched up the Seattle band and sent them on tour to seek their fortune. The title of The Head and the Heart’s second LP, Let’s Be Still, can be read as an appeal for respite following two years of relentless touring. The same goes for the album’s idyllic cover photo, which has two band members sprawled atop raw sienna grass, gazing up at a clear blue sky.
It’s easy to be cynical about The Head and the Heart: on the face of it their folk-tinged brand of soft rock. With no end of rousing choruses, it sits comfortably alongside the likes of The Lumineers, Of Monsters and Men and - whisper it - Mumford and Sons. Scratch the surface, though, and it’s quickly apparent that, rightly or wrongly, the Seattle outfit seem to have a touch more credibility than most of their contemporaries.
Sub Pop, a label once known for pioneering the raucous Seattle sound, has found its footing in the new millennium as a purveyor of soft rock. This strange shift in orientation only makes sense on a regional level as a few of the major acts on their roster on from the Emerald City, namely Fleet Foxes and their cathartic spin off Father John Misty. Let’s Be Still, the newest release from Seattle collective The Head and The Heart is an exercise in low key, unobtrusive folk rock.
The second album from Seattle six piece The Head and The Heart follows 2011’s rather darling self-titled debut, on which their indie-folk stylings reinterpreted the sounds of Americana for a modern audience, bathing them in warm, golden hues. The band’s slow-burn success in the US landed them supports slots with the likes of The Decemberists, Death Cab For Cutie and Iron and Wine, popping them right in amongst the indie elite. This side of the pond too they’ve acquired a solid fan base, having recently sold out London’s glorious St Pancras Old Church.