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07/04/2012 Head And The Heart - The Head And The Heart Review
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The Head And The Heart - News
|Head And The Heart - The Head And The Heart Review|
|07-04-2012 14:10 | 0 comment(s)|
| 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. The result is a deal with Sub Pop and, inevitably, a re-release of their debut.
That would be a remarkable story if the album were innovative or intriguing, if it offered some new take on Pacific Northwest folk-rock, if it had personality beyond its success. Instead, The Head and the Heart is a lackluster mélange of vaguely old-time instrumentation, wan gospel harmonies, and heart-always-on-sleeve songwriting. Jon Russell and Josiah Johnson trade off lead vocals, each trying to out-earnest the other, while Charity Thielen's violin traces placid swirls around the melodies. But it's Kenny Hensley's piano that distinguishes the band and broadens their palette, for better or worse. He injects some much-needed pomp into "Ghosts" and "Heaven Go Easy on Me", goosing these songs out of their tasteful torpor. On the other hand, he constantly falls back on the tactic of repeating chords to convey general drama, which recalls Coldplay more than Tin Pan Alley.
The band's name is intended to emphasize both emotion and intellect, yet so many of these songs fall flat in both aspects. They're capable lyricists, although prone to lapses in judgement. "I wish I was a slave to some age-old trade," Russell sings on "Down in the Valley", "like riding 'round on railcars and working long days." Neither of those examples truly qualifies as an "age-old trade," and the implication of indie slumming may have some listeners clicking Move to Trash before the first Elizabethtown chorus. The song is a travelogue that goes nowhere at all.
Such nods to history and to hard labor are meant to give this album the sheen of authenticity, but it doesn't take long to see through to the calculation beneath. Musically, the band's old-time approximations resemble the Avett Brothers, but, without that group's effortless harmonizing, easy melodicism, and demonstrative vocals, the Head and the Heart sound anonymous, their drama wholly predictable. Conceptually, they're close to Mumford & Sons: opportunistic in their borrowings, yet entirely unimaginative in the execution. Theirs is a thoroughly timid, tentative take on Americana: roots music without the roots.
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