Album Review by M+M
Everyone let out a huge sigh of relief when, after three years, The Head and the Heart finally released their long awaited sophomore LP, Let’s Be Still. Those long in waiting would include yinz’ truly, because we became nostalgic about the original self-titled album before it was even replaced by anything yet. After gaining popularity and signing with SubPop records in 2010, the Seattle band’s debut album cultivated a devoted following that’s been impatiently awaiting their next project. “Shake”—the pre-released single off of Let’s Be Still—was played around the ‘Burgh and across the country in an effort to introduce their new sound and abate the anticipation expressed by fans and critics alike. Proving that they’ve discovered where their “roots have grown,” the new album features a more diverse sound, leaving the familiarity of acoustic and incorporating a collaboration that has made Let’s Be Still a celebrated next step for a talented group.
Admittedly, we’ve been in the company of those who support a cultish appreciation for the Head and the Heart, after their rise to an indie-level amount of fame brought their music to the east coast. We think the group was artful in their introduction of “Shake” as the first single, because the sound is everything we’ve known about them, and everything we’ve yet to learn. Fans of their original album will be comforted by the strong harmonies and lyrics reflective of earlier hits, but should expect the incorporation of a more dynamic sound which introduces some arguably weaker tracks. Head and the Heart apostles who’ve spent three years (40?) in the desert are going to remerge to find some surprises—like Charity’s lead vocals on more than one track. She leads on the “Springtime/Summertime” pairing, which is a Karen-O meets Brandon Flowers arrangement, featuring Karen-esque yips (“oh”s technically) woven throughout pop-synth supported melodies. Unexpected as that may sound, many of the songs on Let’s Be Still can be appreciated within the context of a finely tuned band, aspiring to create collectively.
A throwback to their rereleased self-titled album, “Josh McBride”, is everything that old-school Head and the Heart fans love (which makes sense because it was written and made public as a demo well before). As a stripped-down and emotionally raw song, the lyrics and harmonies are powerful in and of themselves, but the album version embellishes the love ballad into a symphony. On the flip side of the record, we were confused by the title track, as it’s probably one of the most underwhelming songs on the entire release. Perhaps it’s reflective of an underlying theme we’ve not yet identified, but it and the two following songs lack an authenticity we expected throughout. On the latter-half of Let’s Be Still, “Fire/Fear” exemplifies the musical change in direction—it showcases synthetic keys and reverb-heavy vocals, while still indulging the purist with beautiful build and lyrics that sound like an open diary. We consider this a well-produced companion piece to “Honey Come Home”; almost a reflection upon the happenstance that lead up to, or occurred after the heartfelt earlier song. “Gone”, the final track of the album, leaves no question as to what the Head and the Heart intends and can accomplish for future compositions. Though it’s less familiar than where we’ve been with the band, we’re really looking forward to where they go from here.
Tracks on Let’s Be Still might feel more isolated than what we’re accustomed to, but every former and future fan will find something to love in the album. None of the new songs really deserve hard critique, but it may be that we have had too long to defend and become intimate with the Head and the Heart’s self-titled first release. Let’s Be Still surprises and challenges our assumptions of what a sophomore album might sound like, but it’s exactly what we needed to hear. Some might even say it “sounds like Hallelujah for the…” second time.