Indie folk outfit The Head And The Heart have come a long way from packing their debut album into handmade denim sleeves. They’ve signed to Sub Pop, toured with Vampire Weekend and Death Cab for Cutie, played their TV debut on Conan and scored two chart-topping singles along the way.
Now, the band have released their first major label album in the form of their third LP Signs of Light on Warner Bros., which they celebrated with a live performance of their new single ‘All We Ever Knew’ on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. The only downside to their trajectory right now is that they’re lacking vocalist Josiah Johnson, who has taken an indefinite hiatus to battle his addiction – but it’s also that struggle that has added weight to this gripping new release.
Signs of Light offers a brand of indie folk that feels far more substantial than the folk pop blend bands like The Lumineers peddle. There’s no doubt that the album’s depth is due to the exploration of Johnson’s battle with addiction, told through the classic sonic medium of love songs. The emotive string sections cut through the ardent lyricism delivered throughout the LP, providing a refreshing look at the slightly exhausted indie folk genre.
‘City of Angels’ is an apt sonic representation of Los Angeles, complete with uplifting, beautiful moments that are underpinned with a dark, crackling bassline and jagged guitar notes appearing throughout the song. The bridge falls down into a soft ride cymbal-reliant beat while the lyrics declare “I found a lot of love in this town, everywhere I go, but it never seems to stay, I’ve never seen it grow”, solidifying LA’s conflicting image.
A few tracks later, and ‘False Alarm’ skips into life with a dance beat, sounding quite lush with washed out harmonies and keys. This song, in fact, is the first cover The Head And The Heart have ever included on an album. Written by their friend Matt Hopper, the track earnestly traverses from verse to chorus, showcasing an alt rock edge over the softer sounds contained on the rest of the record.
‘Dreamer’ follows with staggered, jarring piano stabs doubled down by the abrupt bassline while warm guitar wails mirror the vocal melody loaded choruses. The verses seem to slide past as the song prepares for the momentous final chorus, exploding into a dazzling array of sounds before slowly unravelling into the delicate ‘Library Magic’.
Even though the song has an authentic frailty to it, the core of the song is strengthened by the positivity contained by the lyrics, advising people to push through the hard times. Some of the album’s biggest moments sit at the back of the tracklisting, such as the anthemic ‘Take A Walk’. From the pop-ready falsetto hook tying the choruses together to the clap-laden, sing-a-long bridge, the song sounds ready to tackle high rotation on radio stations around the world. The good thing about ‘Take A Walk’ is that the song is complex and layered enough that it should withstand the longevity it would face on the airwaves.
The album closes with the slow-burning title track. Sounding more like an early Coldplay composition, the song slowly builds into the ultimate love song that Signs of Light was missing up to this point. Warm, rounded cymbal splashes locked in with bass drum hits help beat the song into its final moments before the song has a chance to lament, closing the 50 minute album in impressive fashion.
All told, Signs of Light is an incredible album loaded with intimate moments, but featuring an invigorated approach to the indie folk that many of the genre’s artists seem reluctant to tackle.