There’s nothing objectively wrong with sticking to a tried-and-true formula that has achieved success a thousand times before. Songs rendered in 20 variations are technically no less impressive or skillful than the most innovative of music. And though this is undoubtedly true, The Head and the Heart’s newest release, Signs of Light, feels ever-so-slightly lacking.
From the beginning, The Head and the Heart follows the classic indie rock formula. This has remained an unshaken truth for the seven years of the band’s existence—going all the way back to 2010, the band’s self-titled album reveals a definite grasp on the core facets of indie rock. At the same time, 2013’s Let’s Be Still proves a similar idea, but with a larger issue: a lack of any innovation or new ideas. Now, the band finds itself in much the same scenario with Signs of Light—an unquestionable level of musical skill, but not much in the way of musical progression.
It is worth examining the anthology that is Signs of Light, because though it may lack originality, it contains a few standout songs. Of particular note is the opening of the album, “All We Ever Knew.” Josiah Johnson sings of lost love as he says, “When I wake up in the morning / I see nothing / For miles and miles and miles / When I sleep in the evening, oh lord / There she goes, only in dreams / She’s only in dreams.” As with the previous two albums, the writing of The Head and the Heart gives off an otherworldly feel—it is perhaps fitting that the band members sing of dreams, because “All We Ever Knew,” though upbeat, feels fanciful and ethereal at the same time.
As Signs of Light progresses, however, its fundamental issues become more and more apparent. “All We Ever Knew” contains much the same tone as “City of Angels,” which sounds quite a bit like “Rhythm & Blues,” all of which feel similar to “False Alarm” … and so on. The only Signs of Light songs to truly break this mold are “Library Magic” and “Signs of Light,” but in all actuality, everything but the latter finds itself lost in the very same catchy, high-tempo upswing that the entirety of the album exhibits. Every song on Signs of Light is fun to listen to—even well-written, most of the time—but that is all they are. One listen-through of The Head and the Heart’s newest work feels just like the (inevitable) last one. There does not appear to be any artistic push to grow from the initial stages of the band’s beginning, and this is frustrating for two reasons.
Though not necessarily harmful to the work itself, a lack of artistic drive alienates listeners who are anything more than the most casual of listeners. On a technical level, Signs of Light is classified as indie rock, but it could just as easily be considered easy listening and nothing more. More important than questions of classification are questions of art itself, though. The Head and the Heart fails to challenge itself with Signs of Light, which calls into question the legitimacy of the art itself—are songs meant for an easy listen-through less valuable than songs that delve into deeper concerns of the human condition? Maybe, or maybe not. In any case, though, The Head and the Heart’s unwillingness to talk about anything more than light-hearted love is rather unsatisfying.
Perhaps this should be unsurprising to the band’s listeners. In “Library Magic,” Johnson, Russell, and Thielen sing the line, “Makin’ music is what we do / tryin’ to weave the patterns for me and you…” It feels like more of a commentary on the direction of The Head and the Heart than anything else—perhaps the band seeks only to make music for the sake of making music. And, if so, that is completely okay. No one should suggest any differently, because each and every member of The Head and the Heart has the technical skill to do whatever they want in the industry. It just feels a tiny bit unfortunate to be deprived of any deeper meanings from the band. The Head and the Heart certainly has the ability to break the mold—and perhaps if it did, it would be somewhat harder to grow tired of its sound after the first listen-through.
Featured Image By Warner Bros. Records