With folk music in the 21st century, we often see bands gain massive cult-like followings to the point where newcomers on the scene can sell out entire arenas and massive venues and have no problems moving records.
For the band The Head and The Heart who recently headlined RamFest, this is very much the case. With two records under their belts and sold out shows across the nation, things have been moving forward for the band at a very fast rate, but their recent album, “Signs of Light,” is a huge step back.
The Seattle-based band has been making a name for themselves as a power house in the genre for a little over seven years. With the release of their debut self-titled album “The Head and The Heart” back in 2011 dominating small record store shelves, the band made a huge splash and soon everyone was clamoring for a physical copy of their first record. For good reason too. Their debut album put the band on the map and eventually led to them getting signed with Sub Pop. It wasn’t long until the release of their critically acclaimed sophomore record “Let’s Be Still” in 2013. The record reached the #10 spot on Billboard 200 and further cemented their place at the forefront of the scene. It was only a matter of time until their next release, and that brings us to “Signs of Light.”
“Signs of Light” is a 13 track record that clocks out at around 50 minutes long. It is one of the most awkward and clunky records to listen to from front to back, and there seems to be no real structure or driving narrative. Let’s get one thing straight before we dive into the album. This is a drastically different record than anything else The Head and The Heart has produced. It can easily fool you with the alternative label slapped over it, but don’t let that deceive you. The Head and The Head has tried something completely different, and it’s not for the best.
The lead track “All We Ever Know” is the first sign that the band has changed their sound. While there are many great elements that I can appreciate them changing, like the tempo and rhythm, there are many things that seem awkward and out of place for a folk band.
The shift from folk to pop can be a huge gap to try to bridge. They embrace a lot of more electrical elements in a way that is reminiscent of Mumford & Sons‘ latest endeavor. While it sort of works here for the lead track, there are plenty of other tracks where it doesn’t quite fit in and throws the track out of balance like in “False Alarm” and “Take a Walk.”
The redeeming factor to some of these awkward musical placements is the vocals. The vocals on this record are at an all-time best and are something else all their own. Arguably, the best track for what this record is has to be “Turn It Around.”
Lyrically, think of the most generic things that pop singers write songs about, and that’s what you get with “Signs of Light.” Most of this record deals with issues like the stressful relationship issues. While it is nothing new, there are some more of the subtle religious undertones that we have grown accustomed to from The Head and The Heart. It’s just one of those things where the repetition of the subject matter, no matter how you spin it, is just as overused as it was before. If you look at tracks like “Dreamer” and “Oh My Dear,” they are essentially from a lyrical standpoint the same thing. Musically, the songs are different. But, when you really listen to the lyrics, this record can get old fast.
Final Score: 1.5/5
The main issue with “Signs of Light” is that it is trying too hard to be something it is not. It is a halfway decent pop album, but it really sucks at being a folk record. While I can appreciate the fact that The Head and The Heart tried something new, this record is their version of selling out after moving labels. I would recommend that if you really like this band, just listen to their first two records and skip past this one. Basically, this is what I think soccer moms would call good music.