Under Review: The Head and the Heart, ‘Let’s Be Still’

The Head and the Heart, "Let's Be Still" (RECORDLABEL) Rating: (out of four)

The Head and the Heart, “Let’s Be Still”
(Sub Pop)
Available now
Rating: ★★★½ (out of four)

The Head and the Heart have a lot to live up to. What started as an open mic project grew into a band that started selling out rock clubs and storming festivals with campfire folk and foot-stamping dance. (And the harmonies! Oh, how I love the harmonies.)

For more than a year, the band toured on its self-titled record, a 10-song collection that couldn’t possibly fill out a entire headlining set. But play that headlining set they did, and the group continued to sell out venues.

So how do you follow that up?

If you’re The Head and the Heart, you do it the smart way. After a time playing hundreds of shows a year, you take the tight instrumentation and otherworldly ability to sing like a half-dozen church choir veterans and you make a new record much the same as your last, but better.

Most importantly, the band has learned how to be modular in its use of instrumentation and voice. There’s the lead-off track “Homecoming Heroes,” which pushes all six band members to their full utility. And then there’s the title track, a smartly stripped-down tune that leaves us with quiet keyboards, light bass, two voices and an almost-not-there beat that’s perfect for for a song about listening to old records and being still.

In between, there’s the stark synth jam “Summertime,” which will be blasting out my car windows come Fourth of July next year, and there’s the bumping, clap-your-hands-and-stamp-your-feet tune “Shake.”

I’m in love with “My Friends,” a happy piano melody with a message about making mistakes, but having good friends there to help you out. (Sounds like the band has done some bonding on the road.)

What the album doesn’t have (and what leaves it short of a four-star rating) is songs such as “Down in the Valley:” something so perfectly worn-in that it sounds like a new version of a folk song that’s been passed through the generations.

Still, “Let’s Be Still” is, most of all, smart. It’s very much the same stuff that we love “The Head and the Heart for without trying to go too far outside the box. Consider it a direct sequel to the band’s first album. Like “Empire Strikes Back” to “Star Wars,” the record is excellent without trying to one-up the original.

Listen to this: “Another Story,” “Let’s Be Still”

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