Clearly, there’s something in the water over in Seattle. Whatever your thoughts on Starbucks coffee, this relatively small US West Coast city has produced a consistent stream of successful alternative rock acts that few other locations can match, ranging from titans of the global pantheon (Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana) to some of today’s most critically revered performers (Fleet Foxes, Modest Mouse). Although the fact Kenny G also hails from Seattle does prove there is an exception that proves this rule, too.
Back in 2011, six piece The Head And The Heart became the latest in a long line of artists discovered by legendary local label Sub Pop to set the music press aflutter with their eponymous debut album. Initially self-funded, the record, an instantly accessible collection of tuneful songs that made up in melodic verve for what it lacked in originality, managed to sell an impressive 10,000 copies through word of mouth alone before being signed and going on to shift a further 290,000 units.
Two years on, they’re back, with the slightly unfair transatlantic Mumford And Sons label still haunting them. Granted, The Head And The Heart do like a banjo and have a propensity for the odd twee chorus, but a much more appropriate (and flattering) comparison for Let’s Be Still would be fellow Americans The Decemberists. While they lack the intellectual gravitas of the Portland, Oregon group, what they do share is a knack for intelligent, chiming folk-pop and a lead vocalist in Jonathan Russell whose yearning, slightly nasal style is very similar to lead Decemberist Colin Moloy.
Let’s Be Still is a definite step forward from its predecessor. Although their default setting remains a mellow jangle – executed to perfection on the title track, with its gentle washes of guitar, organ and cooing girl/boy harmonies – The Head and the Heart also prove they now have more in their locker.
Take second track Another Story for example. A heartfelt reflection on the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Connecticut last year, it displays a new lyrical maturity as well as some hauntingly effective violin work. Similarly, 10,000 Weight In Gold tells the story of a man leaving his family behind for a life on the road, with an instrumental backdrop that is more patient and contemplative than their earlier work.
They also lay themselves bare with considerable élan on the acoustic These Days Are Numbered, which sees Charity Rose Thielen show off a bruised, vulnerable delivery that recalls a young Sinead O’Connor before the song ends with a lengthy, wheezing harmonica solo. Fans of The Head And The Heart’s more established template won’t be disappointed either, with more straightforward, uptempo numbers like the single Shake proving they can still create some lighter waving moments.
Let’s Be Still closes with the intended to be epic, six minute plus Gone, which tries a little too hard to be dramatic and ends up sounding overstretched. The fact that this is the weakest point of the album goes to show the quality of what’s gone before – while unlikely to change anyone’s life, The Head And The Heart have produced a record that’s richly enjoyable and well performed throughout, establishing themselves as a worthy addition to their home town’s roll of honour.