The Head and The Heart – “Let’s Be Still”

After meeting at an open mic night in 2009, The Head and the Heart began forming when Johnson Russell (vocals, guitar) and Josiah Johnson (vocals, guitar) met at an open mic night in Seattle. Kenny Hensley (piano) and Charity Rose Thielen (violin, vocals) joined, followed by Tyler Williams (drums) and Chris Zasche (bass) closing out […]

Sarah Weitman

7.5
out of 10

The Head and The Heart
Let's Be Still
October 15, 2013
Sub Pop

After meeting at an open mic night in 2009, The Head and the Heart began forming when Johnson Russell (vocals, guitar) and Josiah Johnson (vocals, guitar) met at an open mic night in Seattle. Kenny Hensley (piano) and Charity Rose Thielen (violin, vocals) joined, followed by Tyler Williams (drums) and Chris Zasche (bass) closing out the six piece band. They went from busking the Seattle streets and began playing local shows and within months were making waves, in November 2010 they signed with Sub Pop Records in the US and re-released their self-titled debut album in 2011. On tour in 2010 and 2011 they opened for Dr. Dog, The Decemberists, Iron and Wine, Dave Matthews and Death Cab for Cutie, among others, and in 2012 performed about 200 shows. Now, four years later, they have sold over 300,000 copies of their first album and are headlining shows on their own and selling out shows across the US.

Where some albums are associated with certain events or certain places, there are other albums that feel like they are made for a certain place in life. Let’s Be Still isn’t necessarily the album I expected or wanted from The Head and the Heart, but I think it’s the album I needed. I’ve been excited for this album since August when the first single was released. Listening to that, as well as their debut album, I was prepared for more peppy folk, full of pianos, acoustic guitars, and vocal harmonies. While there are songs that still have those elements, the rest of the album sounds more mature. In their bio, Johnson states that they “wanted to write songs that felt bigger” and Let’s Be Still achieves that goal, not just in sound and feel, but in the creation of it as well. The entire band had a part in making this album, with “everyone’s influences equally present and prevalent throughout the album.” This maturity may also have to do with the four year span between albums and personal growth of the band, as well as the ability for the band to focus on the music they want to make as opposed to making music for the purpose of surviving. Aspects of this album do make it easier to start a comparison to The Lumineers, Mumford and Sons or any of the big names of the current indie-folk scene, though as much as you want to … you can’t. Or at least I can’t. Bits and pieces serve as the basis for comparison, but overall, there isn’t one. They sound like the six piece band from Seattle that has worked to get where they are and lived to do it.

“Homecoming Heroes” starts off the album with a comfortable familiarity for old listeners. Reminiscent of “Cats and Dogs,” it’s the first indication that this time around you’re listening to the same band, but things will be a little different. Heavy piano and vocal harmonies reign, with the addition of more strings, but so does an improved sound that benefits by, but isn’t overwhelmed with studio production. “Another Story” is possibly the centerpiece (albeit not in the center) of the entire album. Written by Russell as a response to the school shooting in Connecticut, expertly conveying the feeling of shock that goes along with any tragic event, beginning the song slow like when you “wish it was all a dream,” and building with both instruments and vocals to when the calm breaks and the feelings really come through. “Springtime” and “Summertime” feature Thielen’s earthy vocals, backed by a 70s synth sound that makes me feel like I need to be out in the sun in a sepia-toned video. I was drawn by “Josh McBride” more because of the lyrics than by the song as whole. Probably because I’m a sucker for grandparents’ wisdom and charm. I’ve been in love with “Shake” since the first time I heard it. It was definitely the best choice to release as the first single. As great as it is on the album, pulling together the up-tempo piano, heavy(-er) percussion and even an electric guitar, to go along with the combination of Johnson’s scruffy vocals and Thielen’s earthy backing vocals, I cannot imagine how fantastic it would be to see live. I also have similar feelings about “My Friends.” I like to imagine the recording of that song in the way that it would be sung at karaoke, by a group of people who love each other, even when they don’t, with the same upbeat feel and excitement. “Gone” closes out this album as a band would close out a concert. Coming back, slowly building to draw people in while slowly telling both them and that one person out there the song is meant for good night and goodbye.

Let’s Be Still is released today in the US through Sub Pop Records. They are headlining the Southern Ground Music and Food Festival in Charleston, South Carolina on October 20, and if you were lucky enough to get a ticket before it sold out, they play the Buckhead Theater in Atlanta on Tuesday, November 12.

-Sarah Weitman, October 15, 2013