Are The Lumineers this year’s Head and The Heart? Avett Brothers? Mumford and Sons? [Album Review]

by oz on April 19, 2012

I have a demanding day job that has me flying around the country regularly. Conversations with strangers at airport bars or on flights lead to the “what do you do for a living?” question, usually uttered within 5 minutes of meeting someone. 20% of the time the conversation lasts long enough for me to mention that I moonlight as a music blogger. The general reaction is “Oh, like a music critic?” My typical response back is “No, more like a music evangelist.”

Unlike critics, we operate under the “if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything” mantra and our purpose is purely to share the music we love. I have a bad habit though. When I fall completely in love with an album, I turn on friends and family but I procrastinate in putting my fingers to the keys. It’s probably a coping mechanism for a common fear among average-at-best music journalist wanna-bes like me. I know that whatever mediocre words I produce won’t accurately reflect my appreciation and adoration for the music. It’s sometimes impossible to express how I feel listening to a song or attending a concert. Such is the case with The Lumineers and their self-titled debut. I wanted to write something prior to the release date, but weeks later, here I am, writing what’s already just stream of consciousness rambling.

I mentioned late last year that The Lumineers were a band to watch out for in 2012. I told friends and family that they’d be this year’s Head and The Heart; possibly reaching the popularity of Mumford and Sons. I’m not tracking the buzz enough to know where they stand outside of my circles, but the quality of this album and band is undeniable. They were formed out of tragedy. The seeds of the band came together in 2002 after a 19 year old named Josh Fraites died from a drug overdose in Jersey. Josh’s lifelong best friend (Wesley Shultz) and his younger brother (Jeremiah) played music to combat the hurt. Later, they packed up their belongings, left New York for Denver and a Craigslist connection later, a cellist (Neyla Pekarek) was added and The Lumineers were born.

The album starts with short acoustic ditty called “Flowers In Your Hair” that could survive with nothing other than the fingerpicking and vocals.  A minute in, however, the percussion jumps in and the tempo picks up. Thirty seconds later the cello makes its appearance with a few notes before the song ends with an abruptness that left me yearning for more. “Classy Girls” follows with a similar format. Starts off sparse with conversations in the background, then you’ll find the tempos change, instruments come and go, and hand claps join the fray.

Two songs later, a sing-a-long track called “Dead Sea” rolls along with the cello at its epicenter. It slowly builds to a crescendo at 3:20 when everything stops and Wesley adds a little Righteous Brothers inspired vocal transition. But my jaw dropped when hearing the single, “Ho Hey.” The sharp HO and HEY vocals punctuate the song throughout; a song that is a contradiction. It masquerades as a feel-good celebration, but the lyrics point to lost love, a missed opportunity and eternal regret:

(Ho!) I’ve been trying to do it right
(Hey!) I’ve been living a lonely life
(Ho!) I’ve been sleeping here instead
(Hey!)I’ve been sleeping in my bed,
(Ho!) I’ve been sleeping in my bed (Hey!)

(Ho!)

Verse 2:
(Ho!) So show me family
(Hey!) All the blood that I would bleed
(Ho!) I don’t know where I belong
(Hey!) I don’t know where I went wrong
(Ho!) But I can write a song (Hey!)

Chorus:

1,2,3 I belong with you, you belong with me you’re my sweetheart
I belong with you, you belong with me you’re my sweet (Ho!)

(hey!)
(ho!)
(hey!)

Verse 3:

(ho!) I don’t think you’re right for him
(hey!) Look at what it might have been if you
(ho!) Took the bus to china town
(hey!) I’ve been standing on Canal
(ho!) And Bowery (hey!)
(ho!) And she’d be standing next to me (hey!)

Chorus:

1,2,3 I belong with you you belong with me you’re my sweet heart
I belong with you, you belong with me you’re my sweet heart

And love we need is now
Let’s hope for some
Cause oh, we’re bleeding out

Chorus:
I belong with you you belong with me you’re my sweet heart
I belong with you you belong with me you’re my sweet (Ho!)

Hopefully you’ve purchased the album by now.  If not, listen to “Stubborn Love” and “Big Parade.”  This is as complete and rich as any debut I’ve heard in years.

The Lumineers played at our SXSW party this year in Austin – my first live experience with them. If you see the band, be prepared to be an active participant instead of a casual observer. Their shows are a communal experience where choruses, and sometimes physical space, are shared between band and crowd. At our event, the band left the stage to perform in the crowd, leaving us all with a favorite moment of SXSW 2012.

Music was a catharsis to Wes and Jer after losing a loved one, but the album and every one of their performances feels like a celebration – often in spite of the lyrics. The Lumineers are a reminder that even when love or a loved one is lost, or if we’re hopeless or filled with regret, it’s always great to be alive. And life is worth celebrating.

Catch them on tour and keep an eye out for an upcoming HearYa Live Session with The Lumineers.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Daniel April 19, 2012 at 2:35 pm

Great call. Been listening to this album non-stop.
Can’t wait to see them live!

Woody April 19, 2012 at 3:32 pm

They are so enjoyable to see live. Our session is going to be awesome. But you forgot the constant smile that Neyla exhibits when playing live. She literally smiles when is singing. Its awesome to watch.

John April 19, 2012 at 3:32 pm

I heard “Ho Hey” on Kexp back in February and have been hooked ever since. They are making a stop in CT tonight and I’m pretty sure that I was the first person to purchase tickets (I know I am because I’m seats 101 & 102). I’ve been spreading the word on this band constantly and hoping that people make this a sellout tonight. Great Review for a fantastic album.

Jaclyn April 19, 2012 at 5:06 pm

What a wonderful article about a truly exceptional band. Sadly I missed their show in Chicago. I am hoping they come back soon…

The Dishmaster April 19, 2012 at 5:45 pm

Love this article. I interviewed the band for TheDishmaster.com

Read it here: http://thedishmaster.com/2012/03/the-lumineers-interview-self-titled-debut-album.html

Mary April 19, 2012 at 10:24 pm

I am in love with this album and am beyond bummed that they are going to be here in Boston tomorrow night and I don’t have tickets. Sigh. I would love to see them live – they look like they’d be very fun to watch. They all seem thrilled when they’re performing.

Krista April 25, 2012 at 2:07 pm

Totally agree with everything you’ve said. Was able to see them live last week and they were incredible – they really took advantage of the intimate venue and even came right into the middle of the crowd to perform during their encore. Wonderful band!

oz April 25, 2012 at 9:07 pm

Good to hear Krista. I’ll be seeing them Sunday in KC and hope they leave the stage to play in the crowd…while they still can.

IrishMUsm April 28, 2012 at 9:05 am

solid synopsis. tragic loss….think they have a lot more to put on paper about it.

Cassie Newman April 30, 2012 at 5:45 pm

The show in Brooklyn was sold out, packed to the brim with diehard fans from their home state of New Jersey. It was a testament to not only how far they’ve come, but also to how solidly their roots are planted.

mattneric May 8, 2012 at 3:23 pm

Right on! Agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment here, and you’ve got some very interesting background to back it up. I love this album too:

http://mattneric.wordpress.com/2012/05/08/the-lumineers-the-lumineers/

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