London – What’s in a band name? The Head and The Heart perhaps takes a little less unravelling than most, offering a choice juxtaposition of the rational and the sometimes rash. Signs Of Light is the third album from the Seattle six-piece, and while that title might hint at an imminent coming-of-age musically, the sheer accomplishment of this record suggests that milestone has long past. In the words of the admirably named singer and instrumentalist Charity Rose Thielen: “This album isn’t about us now having achieved our dreams. The day we started being able to live off our art was the day we achieved our dreams, in my mind. This is the album where we really fell into our true voices as those artists.”
Yet a sadder note is appended to the truism of that statement, as singer-guitarist Josiah Johnson is taking a hiatus while fighting addiction issues, and Thielen’s husband Matt Gervais stands in on tour. Johnson has always been a key part of the band, arguably the closest to a front man in a democratic line-up, where each member is pretty integral to the whole, and the songs are credited to the entire band. He is very much present on the album, and it’s richer for it. Standout songs from the outfit’s first two albums like “Lost In My Mind,” “Down In The Valley,” and “Another Story” underlined its ability to pen uplifting songs with memorable melodies. A commercial edge and consistency has been added on the new recording, as song after song vies with each other for fan favouritism. The Head and The Heart has broadened its sonic range and fashioned a sharper immediacy.
Fast forward to the bright, brash chorus of the opening song, “All We Ever Knew” and this could be Family of the Year. The comparison suggests a transition from folk roots to mid-tempo, pop-rock territory, somewhat akin to the shift Mumford & Sons conceived with Wilder Mind. That may bring similar misgivings with it, but I believe the band should be applauded for developing its sound beyond its folk rock origins. The bright, uptempo feel established by the opener extends into the next track, a paean to Los Angeles, “City Of Angels,” and with one or two exceptions when the mood chills a little, that energy is maintained throughout the album. A consistent feature is the vocal strength of the trio of Jonathan Russell, Johnson, and Thielen, all of whom are accomplished lead vocalists in their own right, blending together to produce some impeccable harmonies. Arrangements are rhythmically tight and punchy, while Thielen’s violin adds a further dimension, cutting through at times quite lyrically.
When it comes to the mellower moments on the record, the mellifluous “Library Magic” is particularly effective harmonically, opening with the feel of a Simon & Garfunkel classic and developing into a celebration of the bonds between band members, despite the honesty in the realisation that “there will always be better days.” Charity Rose Thielen has a lovely soulful inflexion to her voice and is heard to great effect mid-way through when she takes a solo verse in the otherwise rather repetitive “Colors.” The ringing jangle of electric guitars herald the relationship dialogue of “Take A Walk,” adding a sense of hope to speculation, while the empowering anthem “Turn It Around” could easily slide comfortably into a Coldplay set.
Opening as a raw and poignant piano ballad, the title track brings this 13-song collection to a considered and near-epic close with shades of Midlake about the huge extended, simply uplifting coda that finally resolves into the plaintive plea: “I need to know if you’re thinking of me.” It emphasises that while The Head and The Heart has fully embraced bigger production values and employed a wider palette on this album, the band is still capable of moments of intimacy in tandem with emotional stirrings.
Signs Of Light is out now and available for purchase on iTunes. The Head and The Heart is on tour until 5th December, taking in dates across Europe, the U.K., Canada, and U.S.A. Details are on the band’s Facebook page.
Tony’s great passion in life is music and nothing gives him more pleasure than unearthing good, original new music and championing independent musicians. His association with Best New Bands brings great opportunities for this. He also writes for Consequence of Sound and is a judge for Glastonbury Festival’s Emerging Talent Competition.
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