Published May 15, 2019If there's one thing that's carried the Head and the Heart through their last three records, it's their earnestness. The Seattle folk-rock group are unafraid of wearing sentiment on their sleeves, with a love for acoustic arrangements, well-orchestrated harmonies, and tons of reverence for Americana traditions of the past.
It's this earnestness and uplifting spirit that's pushed them into the spotlight, next to groups like the Avett Brothers and Fleet Foxes; however, their latest record shows them following the path of the contemporary rock stylings of recent Mumford & Sons. There's still plenty of folk spirit left on Living Mirage, but it's bland and watered down, without many of the quirks that made the band endearing to begin with.
The band's self-titled debut sold 10,000 copies independently, relying on concerts and word-of-mouth before the group was signed to Sub Pop. Featuring "Rivers and Roads," which would later appear on How I Met Your Mother and in who knows how many campfire jams and open mics, it was hard not to be won over by their folksy charm.
That charm is still there somewhere, as evidenced here by the catchy "I Found Out," or the striking acoustic closer "Glory of Music." It's moments like these that are the record's strongest points, while tracks with more studio and production tricks tend to be a little more hit ("Brenda"), or miss (the well-meaning, but dull "Honeybee").
As the last two Mumford & Sons records have proven, embracing a bigger, more modern rock style as a folk group often means sacrificing what made you stand out. The intimacy of folk makes an interesting-at-best pairing with hip-hop-inspired drums and sweeping synth pads. There are moments that are more reminiscent of Twenty One Pilots than any folk act; the success of this approach will definitely vary based on the listener.
The end result is a pleasant but unremarkable record for the group, one that's held back by its blandness more than anything else. (Reprise/Warner)