ALBUM: Signs of Light
ARTIST: The Head and the Heart
Album release date: September 20, 2016
You might not be an American twenty-something if you’ve never sat around a bonfire while a scraggly-haired, bearded peer strums away on someone else’s dad’s vintage guitar, mournfully singing “Rivers and r-OA-ds, rivers and ro-oh-ads, rivers ‘till I see you.” Everyone joins in, clanking their cans of PBR together and winking across the flames during the communal scream of, “...and I miss your face like hell.”
The Head and the Heart, a band of musical misfits and friends who started in Seattle, provided the musical backdrop to some of our dearest collective memories, back in the college daze/days.
(I guess there’s actually a good chance you’re not an American twenty-something. Excuse the millennial myopia.)
Now the band is back after a hiatus with their third studio release, Signs of Light, and are currently on the road, albeit with an altered configuration: co-frontman Josiah Johnson has had to step away from the demands of touring life so as to focus on beating substance addiction. Spokesman and woman Jonathan Russell and Charity Rose Thielen (who play guitar and violin, respectively, as well as write the tunes and sing them) stolidly express their concern and support for Johnson; whilst simultaneously conveying confidence in the “fresh energy” the band is drawing its strength from.
Formally signed with SubPop records, which specializes in homespun, smaller-scale artists, The Head and the Heart have gone in a flashier direction with this latest record: Signs of Light is their first record under a major-label, and the new allegiance shows. While certainly not devoid of emotion or vulnerability, much of the music has a trite bite to it, a beachy pop-rock sound reminiscent of Albert Hammond Jr. or Judah and the Lion. Yet, for all the tones and styles it borrows – the aforementioned beach-pop, 80s synth rock in the style of Peter Gabriel, rhythm-and-blues Southern rock n’ roll – it is saved from being mimicry by virtue of the joyousness and light that burst through.
Even at a hefty 50-minutes play-time, this album is fun to listen to, though lacking in overall profundity: but hey, sometimes you need a break from the whole “tortured-soul” drama, which their original folkier sound delved into beautifully. They’ve covered that ground already. The buoyancy of Signs of Light sets it apart from their last somber record, and conveys a new sense of comfort and direction. Recapturing the happiness of the record and transposing it into live performance could prove challenging, as many layers of production helped tease the tunes into an effortless San Diego bungalow party: time will tell if the head still relies on the heart, and if this beloved band still truly believes in what it’s doing.