Comforting 'Let's Be Still' soothes The Head and the Heart

Sub Pop

By Hannah Weiner, Daily Arts Writer
Published October 16, 2013

There’s a Slate article circulating that writes off the “roots revival movement” of our generation, dismissing bands like Mumford & Sons and the Lumineers as purely valuable for their “attraction of collectivity, even of surrogate family.”

Let's Be Still

The Head and the Heart
Sub Pop

If you agree with this argument, you should steer clear of The Head and the Heart’s new album, Let’s Be Still.

Because of the band’s inclusiveness, because of their mimicking a surrogate family and because the artists emanate this kind of tenderness, The Head and the Heart have a fan base that takes pride in this musical comfort. The band’s first album gave people the warmth of music that can be played to fit all scenarios; songs like “Rivers & Roads,” “Down in the Valley” and “Cats & Dogs” offer security in the swelling vocals, the rustic guitar and the catchy harmonies. The music is like a hug, a thick fuzzy blanket or a hot mug of tea for the head and the heart.

In Let’s Be Still, the comfort has maximized. Songs like “My Friends” and “Another Story” reacquaint us with the familiar folksy sounds of Charity Thielen, Jonathan Russell and Josiah Johnson, uniting voices in lines like, “When I’m down / you pick me up / my friends.” For most of the album, they slip into their cozy groove of piano, drums, guitar and vocals that crescendo and finally fade out with a profound, universal message.

Whether they’re singing, “Gone are the days when the wind would brush my face” or “You are in grandmother’s wisdom,” Russell’s sensory details touch on universal symbols of home, love and safety. There’s a reason we keep returning to indie-folk bands like The Head and the Heart; for many, it provides the wholehearted sense of family that’s impossible to dislike.

But Let’s Be Still doesn’t stop here, confining the band to a particular sound. Instead, The Head and the Heart expand its sound with more energy. Just listening to the opening track, “Homecoming Heroes,” introduces us to a side of the band we haven’t met before — it bounces on upbeat drums, dances happily on piano keys and sings with a happiness and confidence that was hidden on the last album.

Charity Thielen’s angelic (and at times spunky) voice leads us through “Springtime” and “Summertime,” giving Russell’s vocals a break and exciting indie-folk fans who’ve been waiting to hear her break away from the harmonies. It’s not necessarily an entirely new sound, but it’s nuanced — Thielen freshens the track list with her pristine vocals.

Similarly, “Shake” unexpectedly presents the audience with electric guitar and synths (gasp!). Yet this introduction doesn’t shock listeners because it matches the energy that wavers throughout the album. Instead, it makes us tap our toes, bounce and tap — a phenomenon that fans of The Head and the Heart may not understand from their typically relaxed and introspective songs.

Don’t worry, those songs still exist on Let’s Be Still. “Another Story,” a song meant to reflect on the Newtown tragedy, distills Russell’s rustic voice on an inspirational and emotional track. He sings, “The sun still rises even through the rain,” and despite its clichéd messages, the music offers us reassurance. It’s comfort music, no doubt.

There’s no shame in listening to music for its emotional value; everyone needs a security blanket or mug of hot chocolate every once in a while. Everyone needs their head and the heart soothed, and every once in a while, everyone needs to just be still.