Review: The Head and The Heart – The Head and The Heart (2010)

If it weren’t for Abby Holmes, she of much great taste, I would be blissfully unaware of the song “Ghosts” by The Head and The Heart, a band straight from Miss Holmes’s stomping ground, Seattle, Washington. Abby posted about “Ghosts” on Radio Free Chicago, the blog that takes up the majority of my internet-journalism-ing time, and I gave the track a listen. After all, with phrases like “sunny Americana sounds that occasionally merge onto pop or alt-country back roads”, it seemed as though The Head and The Heart would be right up my alt-country lovin’ alley. One listen to “Ghosts” proved that notion correct and my immediate love of the track meant that I was wasting no time in procuring the West coasters self titled Sub Pop release and delving straight into it.

Word is that The Head and The Heart are something of indie darlings in their home state, selling out small shows and opening for such big name acts as David Bazan and, strangely enough, Dave Matthews. One quick search of Seattle Times’ website will bring up a slew of articles on The Head and The Heart. Then, of course, there’s the news that the band’s self released debut is a recent acquisition of the critically lauded Sub Pop records and the label is planning on rereleasing the record in a physical format April 16th (MP3’s are available through Sub Pop now). It’s all enough to make you wonder why the sextet is still languishing in veritable obscurity outside of their Washington comfort zone.

The Head and The Heart – Ghosts

From the opening moments of The Head and The Heart, it’s apparent that the band, lead by co-vocalists Josiah Johnson and Jonathan Russell, won’t be all that obscure for long, especially with the physical release of their debut looming on the imminent horizon. The album opens with “Cats and Dogs”, a one-minute-and-fifty-some-seconds long track that acts as an introduction to what you’re in store for, setting you up for all of The Head and The Heart‘s best moments. The lyrics, sung with the whiskey soaked melodicism of a man that probably smokes a pack a day, have a tinge of melancholy (“My roots have grown but I don’t know where they are.”) and are a strict counterpoint to the Appalachian stomp of the band’s many musicians. When “Cats and Dogs” transitions seamlessly into “Coeur D’Alene”, you don’t notice that the song’s changed until it’s almost over. In fact, as the album progresses, you notice that it plays out less like a track-by-track release and more like a single cohesive work of art, with violinist Charity Thielen’s vocals adding an unexpected layer of gentle allure to Johnson and Russell’s harmonies, while Chris Zasche proves himself to be one of the most remarkable bassists in indie music today this side of Okkervil River’s Patrick Pestorious.

The Head and The Heart have a rootsy charm about them that would make them the perfect tourmates for modern folk superstar Josh Ritter but they maintain all the pop appeal of The Hush Sound, particularly on “Ghosts”,  which is pianist Kenny Hensley shining moment on the record. “Ghosts” is  a track which evokes Frontier Ruckus covering “The Boys Are Too Refined”, one of the most appealing moments from The Hush Sound’s swan song album, Goodbye Blues. It sounds odd in theory but I dare you to curb the desire to listen to it at least twice in a row. I dare you!

Mixing thematic melancholia with stick-in-your-head hooks is The Head and The Heart’s specialty, as the juxtaposition of these two sensibilities are prevalent on nearly all the The Head and The Heart‘s ten tracks. In fact, The Head and The Heart are able to keep even their saddest ballads (“Down In The Valley”) rife with appeal and that allure is one which makes the band one of the across-the-board catchiest bands I’ve heard in a long while.

After “Ghosts”, the album lulls momentarily with the ballad “Down In The Valley”, providing a perfect backdrop to let Thiele’s violin talent shine through. If you’ve managed to evade falling in love with The Head and The Heart up until “Down In The Valley”, the band’s harmonies on the song’s lullaby-esque “oh”s will doubtlessly ensnare, well, both your head and your heart. And if you have fallen in love with the Seattle six piece already, then “Down In The Valley” will only make you love them even more.

The charms of The Head and The Heart are many. While their self titled debut lasts at a mere 40 minutes, it’s feels at once to take all evening to spin it’s melodic web around you yet it seems, as it’s wrapped up, to have only been a moment since you started it. I imagine that Seattle residents feel the same way about The Head and The Heart as Michigan folk kids like myself feel about Frontier Ruckus in the sense that locals understand how lucky they are to catch the band at their infancy. Much like Fruckus, it’s impossible to maintain the notion that the world outside of the pacific northwest won’t fall under the spell cast The Head and The Heart before long.

The Head and The Heart
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