The Head and The Heart’s self-titled debut album is a deeply emotional and energetic composition that will need to be listened to over and over again to fully appreciate all of its delicate beauty. This highly anticipated album is scheduled for release April 16, 2011 off of Sub Pop Records, and it is not one to miss.
The Seattle-based band came together in 2009 and since then, has gained a reputation for their lively shows, heartfelt melodies and intuitively intelligent lyrics. The songs on the album incorporate different orchestral accompaniments, like cello, violin and glockenspiel, and the male and female vocalists harmonize like their voices were born together, giving the music a full-bodied and sensitively complete feeling.
These artists are masters of the tension and release element of song making, infusing each song, both the upbeat and jaunty dance numbers and the slower, more contemplative reflection pieces, with an expertly crafted rise and fall of instrumentation and vocals. Listening to this album is like breathing deeply with hyper-awareness of unconscious elements at work, while standing on the beach as the tide approaches and retreats with a rhythm of great magnetic force.
Each song is a subtly nuanced journey through the cross-section of pure creative outburst and fine-tuned technical execution, and it is produced with compelling mastery over all elements of timing, flow and theme. Subject matter weaves through topics like homecoming and leaving, separation from loved ones, finding and losing of love, family, travel, resignation, and optimism, all crafted with straightforward lyrical poignancy.
The album opens strong with the song “Cats and Dogs,” layering subtle percussion, guitar, soothing vocals, piano and spacious “Oohs” on top of each other, allowing the instruments to find their place in the song. “My roots have grown, but I don’t know where they are,” they croon. The texture of the album is apparent from the first few minutes, and continues to weave a rich fabric of feeling until the very end.
The second song, “Couer D’Elane” starts out upbeat but with sort of downtrodden lyrics like “Everyone wants love…” The slightest hint of Charity Rose Theilen’s uniquely wavering vocals plays in the background, enriching the main vocals and foreshadowing her talents. The track enters into a boxy rhythm with heavy piano, and ends with a refreshing up tempo and an optimistic conclusion of “There’s no use knowin which way the wind is blowin…. My minds’ made up, I’m doin this…”
“Ghosts” opens with an old-fashioned saloon sound, as if flapper friends lounge about a grand piano: a tip of the hat to the past. This is definitely a song that will get you tapping your toes to the sounds of multi-layered harmonizing. “One day we’ll all be ghosts,” they sing happily. It’s an upbeat dance number that will make you want to grab your tophat and fondly remember days of friends, even though “all my friends are sitting in their graves.”
The pace slows down for the middle of the album, though the band loses none of their integrity. Enter beautifully haunting violin in “Down in the Valley,” as the vocalist sings heavily of better days, voice full of resignation. “They both end in trouble, and start with a grin,” he ruminates, as if reflecting on past sorrows in a darkly lit bar. The singer mentions the joys and sorrows of a life of traveling, employing images of California and Oklahoma, as his voice fades into the background, allowing a soulful piano, drum and violin medley to finish the talking.
The Head and The Heart’s mastery of tempo building, crescendo and release leaves nothing to desire in “Rivers and Roads,” a deeply sad song about the pain of being separated from family. Thielin’s female vocals are soulful in all the right places, surprising little bits of beauty that appear in the rising action of feeling as well as the downturn, bringing the listener along on the journey through uncrossable space.
“Honey Come Home” is another blend of perfect harmonizing and enlivening orchestration, touching on the turbulent feelings of divorce. The song is a plea for a loved one to return, emphasizing images of kitchens and kids, featuring full instrumentation, then release into the repeated line “just want to die with the one I love.” Voices rise endearingly as the band somehow manages to hit a chord of some integral, simple human truth, pleading “honey, please come home, my stubborn ways are behind me now.”
The seventh song, “Lost in my mind,” moves toward a lighter feeling of high pitched harmonizing and an appreciation of brotherhood, plus a touch of the value of work by human hands. “Oh my brother, your wisdom is older than me, don’t you worry about me…” they sing amid deepening and receding piano, drums, guitar, violin, percussion, allowing space for instrumental interludes and a capella crescendos.
“Winter Song” stretches long those lungs of theirs, opening with soft, folk-style acoustic sound, backed intermittently by the uprising of harmonization and a solo by Thielin. The big band seems a little redundant here, perhaps overpowering the acoustic stylings of Thielin, but consistent in their style nonetheless.
A song called “Sounds Like Hallelujah” can be nothing less than uplifting. Striking variations in rhythm, from acoustic to downplayed piano, to eventually fast-paced gospel-like build-up and clapping keep the ear and psyche active. The refrain “I’ll miss you someday” tugs on those heartstrings.
The plaintiveness of The Head and The Heart brings the album to a close with long “Ohs,” steady piano and the harmonizing that gives them their strikingly emotional power. “Heaven Go Easy On Me” concludes this very strong debut of a band worth watching.