The Head And The Heart - Let's Be Still


I was alerted to the existence of Seattle based The Head And The Heart back in 2010 when they were touring with Stornoway. This sparked a momentary curiosity that resulted in tapping their name into YouTube. This produced a few slightly neglected videos and some audio tracks. I clicked on the first, then the second, and within about 20 minutes of euphoric track flicking I had found my new favourite band. They popped up at the perfect moment; their indie-folk was exactly what I was hungry for, and they whacked the nail right on the noggin.

Their debut album came out about nine months after this episode, and it was a tense affair. Would it be the triumph we were all praying for? It would. It became hardwired to stereos for weeks, all other music on iPods was deleted to preserve the purity of this ONE record and everybody who I crossed paths with was given the full sermon. You can therefore understand my excitement upon hearing that The Head And The Heart (H+H) was releasing their second full-length, Let’s Be Still (Sub Pop - October 15 2013).

The doors to the album were thrown open when I heard the first single ‘Shake’. It opens in true H+H style – with big thumping bass drum. This is joined by, shock horror, an %&£*electric guitar#*%! This album is not cast in the same mold as the first– and thank god. There would have been nothing more depressing than a laurel-resting collection of more of the same.

‘Let’s Be Still’ opens with ‘Homecoming Heroes’. It has deep nods to the H+H sound - a slightly honky-tonk piano, some simple violin, a rocky beat and an acoustic guitar that seems to have only learned one or two chords. This is all massaged by lead singer Josiah Johnson’s velvety vocals. While containing the same ingredients as yesteryear, the cake has come out richer and bigger.

It feels as though the band have developed a certain level of maturity. If the first album is a musical dissection; a baring all, then this is more like the second or third relationship – approached with less naivety and more confidence. The result is beefier and with slightly fewer clenched fists.

‘Summertime’ is an exciting song on the album. It has an 80’s vibe, including a soulful lead-vocal performance from female member Charity Rose Thielen, a boomy snare drum and some fluorescent-ski-jacket synths. This is a good example of them embracing elements of what is musically ‘cool’ right now. It isn’t overdone, though, and will fare well outside those brief windows when that style ‘comes around’.

Charity’s vocals are well used on the album. Earlier releases saw lead vocals shared out relatively evenly, but they’ve rightly settled on Johnson as lead singer. It gives them more of a ‘brand’ - more of a sense of continuity. He also has the best voice in the band. The only song that I think they got vocally wrong is ‘These Days Are Numbered’. I have to confess to slightly wincing at points. I’m afraid, Charity, it perhaps shouldn’t have made the record. It is a bit she-Dylan, and not in a good way.

I think that ‘Shake’ is the best song that the band has ever written. It encourages a foot-thump without making you feel like a bearded folkie swilling ale in an inn and the chorus is BIG. I’ve been playing the record for the past few days and NOBODY can help but join in the chorus, wails woops and all.

The title track of the album is reminiscent of some of the bands signature ‘slow’ ones. It is classic romance, with a very touching back and forth between the man and the woman.

The tone of the album is summed up in ‘Fire/ Fear’, the penultimate track. It exhibits the bands obvious comfort with emotion and the more delicate things, but reaches points of real rockiness and power – not something really displayed in their debut album. It closes with the admission; ‘I want to feel the fear again, with you or anybody else’.

The album closes dramatically with ‘Gone’ a six and half minute epic that sits in a nice groove before rising to a climactic finale.

This is a good record. Apart from the one I mentioned earlier, there aren’t any howlers. The trouble is that it doesn’t have enough songs that will inspire a sermon – too few euphoric moments. I LOVE ‘Shake’ but it is slightly lonely up there at the top. There aren’t enough hooks, and too few boot-stampers. Unfortunately it feels as though in moving into their new sound they have lost a little of what made them so charming, and so good. I will continue to listen to the record, and enjoy it. I prefer their new sound, but I don’t think they carry their new style as well as they did their old one.


Have a listen to 'Shake', here.