Album Review: The Head and the Heart by The Head and the Heart
Acceptable, Based on 9 Critics
Filter - 84 Based on rating 84%%
Successfully selling more than 10,000 copies of their eponymous debut record all on their own, the former open-mic misfits and Seattle sextet swiftly garnered the attention of Sub Pop earlier this year with their Beatles, Stills & Young mix of Americana and chamber pop. Getting an official, re-mastered and re-issued treatment featuring unreleased and re-recorded songs, The Head and the Heart deliver plenty of both when it comes to sing-along meditations and winding Appalachian roads. .
Less than two years after they first came together, the Head and the Heart have become one of the most popular bands in their hometown of Seattle, Washington, and a listen to their self-titled debut album makes it clear why: they're very good, and almost startlingly accomplished for a handful of twenty-somethings who initially recorded and released this album on their own dime a year before it was given an expanded and refurbished re-release by Sub Pop. Vocalists, guitarists, and songwriters Josiah Johnson and Jonathan Russell provide the strongest draw on The Head and the Heart with their crisp but homey harmonies and melodies that find a middle ground between ‘70s folk-rock and British Invasion-era pop, and they get an invaluable assist from pianist Kenny Hensley, whose keyboard lines add plenty of tuneful energy to the performances. Charity Rose Thielen's fiddle and vocals add warmth and texture to the music, and bassist Chris Zasche and drummer Tyler Williams are an ideal rhythm section for this band, solid and capable of adding color without muddying the details of the picture.
This Seattle band managed to sell 10,000 copies of their self-funded debut, presumably by adding one part Fleet Foxes-type harmonies and rural concerns to four parts Mumford & Sons tambourine-bashing jollity. Rereleased with extra tracks, it's unarguably uplifting, chest- and piano-thumping stuff, although the formula has more than a whiff of calculation, with nostalgia-tugging tales of devotion, valleys, railroads, "rivers of whiskey" and a recurring sense of going back, whether to roots or former lovers. However, moments of delicate introspection such as Winter Song and Josh McBride (from their Chapel Sessions) aside, their straining for both authenticity and jollity can bring to mind people knocking on your door wielding pamphlets.
Seattle's answer to Mumford & Sons call themselves "shamelessly happy", but their debut album is a reminder that sounding it isn't always a good thing. This is indie-folk at its most exuberant and though choruses swell and harmonies bloom it still sounds tediously predictable. Their tambourine-slapping earnestness grates, as does the vague nostalgia that washes over everything like a Photoshop sepia-effect.
Since the Shins hit it big, Sub Pop has been lining up a series of folk-pop acts to follow in their footsteps. There has been, of course, the major success of Fleet Foxes, and all this time Fruit Bats have been sadly undersold, but there’s also been acts like Daniel Martin Moore who didn’t quite catch on—though he is quietly coming into his own. Now we’ve got the latest in that folky train, the Head and the Heart, whose sweet sound could lead to a serious break out.
Recorded and released on their own dime, the Head and the Heart's self-titled debut is one of the biggest grassroots success stories of the past year. The Seattle band managed to sell 10,000 copies by word of mouth alone, which is impressive for any unsigned act, especially in this economic and business climate. They're touring relentlessly and have landed some enviable opening gigs for Vampire Weekend and, ahem, Dave Matthews.
In today’s music scene, it seems as though everything is split into sections: Brooklyn, West Coast, Pacific Northwest, just to name a few. And even though these labels at first seem intriguing, they do raise the question of what it means to be clumped with everything else that is coming out of a certain region, which may be the largest problem with the debut album by Seattle natives The Head and The Heart. Even with their rags to riches story as a glorious backdrop, the eponymous debut falls flat, as it reeks of nearly every trick in the folk book.
Like many who have discovered the Pacific Northwest’s The Head and the Heart, I came by the band via their song “Rivers and Roads”. It’s such a beautiful slice of modern folk balladry that one can’t help but take notice. The band’s name has spread like wildfire as their self-released debut lit a flame in the Seattle area. Enter Sub Pop and a re-release, and you’ve got a bona fide independent success story.
It's impossible to ignore the Mumford & Sons in this Seattle sextet, a sound that itself was a watered-down take on the Avett Brothers' Americana. Jonathan Russell and Josiah Johnson's vocals carry the same gentle grit of their British brethren, bent atop poppier piano runs on opening shots "Cats and Dogs" and "Coeur d'Alene. " The saving grace – and charming divergent promise – of The Head and the Heart lies in Charity Rose Thielen, whose vocals add engaging elements that hearken a more subdued Jolie Holland and Erika Wennerstrom on "Rivers and Roads" and "Winter Song.