Record Routine: The Head and the Heart lack musically, thrive lyrically

The Head and the Heart performed at the Madison favorite Live on King Street in 2014. 

Image By: Will Chizek

What I have always admired about The Head and the Heart was the band’s ability to tap into raw human emotions and experiences. As their name suggests, their traditionally folky, alternative style makes me reflect on my own life— with both my head and my heart. In their third album Signs of Light, the band departs from this sound, opting for less folk and more pop. From a musical standpoint, the results are mixed. However, The Head and the Heart does stay true to their unique qualities at the core of each track both lyrically and thematically.

The opening song, “All We Ever Knew,” was also the first single released from the album. I heard it on the radio this summer without realizing who the artist was, surprised to learn that it was The Head and the Heart because of its differences from the previous two albums. However, I was intrigued by the new direction in which the band seemed to be going. Having heard the rest of the album, this track is still my favorite one because the lyrics themselves are relatable and true. The opening lyrics grabbed me immediately with lead singer Jon Russell’s familiar, emotive vocals.

This upbeat sound flows through the majority of the songs. The second track, “City of Angels,” incorporates more electric guitar, rather than the acoustic sound for which the band is more known. Beneath these heavy instrumentals, though, lies the true value in this song and the other tracks: the lyrics. When Russell belts out, “I know just where my heart should be,” it harkens back to the band’s recurring themes grounded in emotion.

“Rhythm and Blues” introduces the theme of loneliness. The lines “No one likes to be so lonely/ No one likes to feel alone” vocalize something that most everyone believes, but few like to talk about. The Head and the Heart continue to dig into this idea with “Library Magic” and “Turn It Around.” The former is more subdued in tempo and instrumentals which gives it a relaxed feel. The also band reminds us that “Being alone isn’t lonely,” and that “There will always be better days.” The harmonies between Jon Russell and vocalist Charity Rose Thielen are also as entrancing as ever. “Turn It Around” picks the tempo back up, emphasized by the uplifting percussion in the background. The synthetic sounds within this song detract from its overall quality—a problem that much of the album faces. But the track speaks beautifully to the ones that came before it, as the band sings, “You know the feeling I’m talking about,” and remind us “you can turn it around,” which continues to strengthen their messages.

The unity among the tracks is the strongest element in the album. The tracks “Oh My Dear” and “I Don’t Mind” convey this the best through similar lyrics and musical notes. The former has a more somber tone to emphasize the lyrics: “You can put [life] on a shelf/You can watch the dust collect.” The latter contrasts this tonally, repeating these two lines with upbeat, staccato guitar strums. The last guitar note of the first song is also the first note of the second song, so that they act as two halves of one piece, a clever way to craft multiple tracks.

The album ends on the titular track, “Signs of Light,” which is arguably the highest quality song. It is primarily comprised of vocals and piano to draw the listener in. It slowly builds up to a powerful, instrumental climax as Josiah Johnson sings “It’s you that you’re running from.” The song closes the album on an affecting, emotional note that ties themes of life, light and loneliness together.In its entirety, Signs of Light delivers lyrically but falls a little flat musically. The tracks do feel over-produced compared to the acoustic feel from The Head and the Heart and Let’s Be Still, which unfortunately is what keeps this album from being great. However, their lyrics are powerful, and they still retain that sense of relatability for which the the band is known.

Grade: B

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