Phoebe Little ‘20
“Signs of Light,” released on Sept. 9, 2016 is The Head and the Heart’s third album and its first release with Warner Bros. Records. The album shifts away from the band’s previous indie-folk sensibility to a more mainstream pop sound. The band’s “Signs of Light” tour comes to Northampton on Mar. 7.
Many long time fans of the indie-folk band were nervous about the release of the album, as it was the band’s first album with a major record label. Their fears weren’t totally unfounded. The chorus of “I Don’t Mind” is sung in a bright falsetto reminiscent of disco hits of The Bee Gees and “City of Angels,” the band’s ode to Los Angeles, has a driving power pop beat. Overall, “Signs of Light” is heavily produced and glossy, losing the simple, intimate, earthy sound from the band’s previous releases. This original folky sound comes through only sparingly in moments like the fiddle line in “All We Ever Knew,” or the vocal harmonies in “Colors” and “Library Magic.” The result of this change in style is some polished and very pleasant pop music, but has a less warm sound than on the band’s previous albums “Let’s Be Still” (2013) and self titled first album “The Head and The Heart” (2011).
What hasn’t changed is The Head and The Heart’s brilliant songwriting. “Signs of Light” contains plenty of gorgeous lyrics and a handful of genuinely tender moments. This album comes at a sensitive time for the band. Before its release, singer-songwriter and guitarist, Josiah Johnson, took a leave of absence from the band to seek treatment for addiction problems. A new member, Matty Gervais, joined the lineup for the album tour. Undoubtedly colored by this experience, the songs on “Signs of Light” are very personal and many deal with feelings of loneliness, grief and loss. However, the overall feeling of the album is optimistic. It is hard not to be touched by the band’s autobiographical “Library Magic” in which vocalist and instrumentalist Charity Rose Thielen writes “just trying to survive / this self-imposed adventure” of non-stop touring and album producing. However, singers remind listeners in lush harmony “there will always be better days.”
The Head and The Heart’s “Signs of Light” is an experiment in a new sound for the band. While the experiment is never particularly groundbreaking, “Signs of Light,” which peaked at number five on the Billboard Charts, remains a very solid album with a few catchy pop songs and some lovely emotional anthems. The 13 songs are diverse enough in style to be listenable to people of many different musical tastes. With its clever lyrics and bright tunes, the band delivers what their name promises; “Signs of Light” is a delight to the listener’s head and heart.
The Head and The Heart will perform at John M. Greene Hall at Smith College on Mar. 7, at 8 p.m. with special guest Mt. Joy, as part of their “Signs of Light” tour. Tickets can be purchased online from dspshows.com. The show is open to the public and all ages.