In the four years since Seattle Americana-folk outfit The Head and The Heart started getting national attention, it could never be said that they had a reputation for raising the roof. This band is not trading on your trendy bass-drum-foot-stompin’ Mumford & Sons arena-folk; this is more mid-tempo, lyrical, occasional-toe-tappin’ folk.
However you describe their sound, they’ve struck a nerve and built a solid following. If there’s anything their debut album showed us, it’s that The Head and The Heart are master balladeers—and their followup album Let’s Be Still capitalizes on that strength.
There’s a sort of flawed mindset that we music lovers tend to fall into—the presumption that “fast” songs are energetic (and therefore interesting), and “slow” songs are less so, and therefore less interesting. The truth is, a mid-tempo or downtempo song, when it’s done well, can carry a great deal of energy through the emotion and lyrical honesty. And this is where this band truly shines, and why I love them so much. They do ballads, but they don’t do boring or cheesy. Their songs strike a nerve because they are relatable, sometimes even powerful. Don’t mistake slow and soft for boring.
That’s not to suggest that Let’s Be Still is strictly an album of ballads. The record sets a respectable pace with midtempo openers “Hometown Heroes” and “Another Story,” and even ventures toward upbeat on tunes like “Summertime” and “My Friends.” But in truth, the album leans toward the more reflective side of things, and pretty much resigns itself to that trend the further down the track list you go.
That point made, the ballads truly make the album for me. Among the most poignant among these are the truth-telling title track (“The world’s just spinning a little too fast / If things don’t slow down soon we might not last”). Elsewhere, “Cruel” is a moving post-fight love song that could easily carry a double meaning as social commentary: “Everywhere I turn there seems to be another war / We’ll come out of this…I tried being cruel, it’s just not in me.” And Charity Rose Thielen’s pure-but-wavering vocals on “These Days Are Numbered,” presented over a simple acoustic guitar—devastatingly beautiful.
Perhaps the only thing about Let’s Be Still that could be considered a minus is its length. Despite my earlier defense of ballad-heavy material, there’s something to be said about preventing ear fatigue. The album clocks in at 13 tracks, and with some of the most poignant material placed near the end, my concern is that some the power of those tracks could be lost on listeners playing the album straight through. I’d hesitate to say some of the songs could have been cut (they’re all good, in my opinion), but perhaps some of them should have been saved for a future album or EP. Nevertheless, all told, The Head and The Heart have done themselves proud with a sophomore album that truly plays to their strengths. If you were a fan before, you’ll be even more of a fan now. I know I am.
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