By Michael Lello
Some artists bury their emotions and their intent under gauzy walls of sound or inscrutable lyrics; if you get the underlying message, great, and if you don’t, well, that’s just fine by them too.
The Head and the Heartare not one of these bands. The earnest folky, piano-pop Seattle sextet made up of Josiah Johnson (vocals, guitar, percussion), Jonathan Russell (vocals, guitar, percussion), Charity Thielen (violin, vocals), Chris Zasche (bass), Kenny Hensley (piano) and Tyler Williams (drums) wants you to know exactly where they stand – and they seem to be inviting you to join in. On their self-titled debut, their songs are — mostly — buoyed by unabashed optimism, and it’s often infectious.
Together only since 2009, THATH have a fully fleshed-out sound, a driving pop feel where sweet vocal harmonies and active piano, as well as percussion, are the prime movers. They set the tone early with the short semi-song opener, “Cats and Dogs.” “My roots have grown, and I don’t know where they are,” the band sings, and they’re not hung up on the misplaced influenced; no, they’re downright giddy that they’ve been able to move forward and do their own thing.
The smooth “Couer d’Alene”ends with a jaunty shuffle that calls to mind the piano pop stylings of Jukebox The Ghost; “Ghosts” is decidedly darker. “Down In The Valley” is, despite the overall uplifting thrust of the album, quite downcast, but with an eye on a happy future. With the understated acoustic instruments and repentant lyrics, as well as plaintive piano, one would not be out of line to compare “Down In The Valley” to The Avett Brothers’ “I And Love And You.”
After the darkness of “Ghosts” and the introspectiveness of “Down In The Valley,” listeners might expect an injection of oomph, but that’s not the case. THATH follows with “Rivers And Roads,”a sad song that finds Thielen harmonizing on lines like “I miss your face like hell.” The song grows in intensity, but not tempo, as layers and layers are added and the vocals become more intensely yearning.
“Honey Come Home”is an unfiltered song of forgiveness, the singer letting a departed partner know that he’s grown up and changed his ways and she can now come home. Meanwhile, “Lost In My Mind,” built on a simple acoustic guitar, finds the singer warning that he’s going to disappear into his own head and thoughts for a while. But, he assures, “My brother, don’t you worry about me.” With “stars up above,” he reckons, “we can start moving forward.”
“Winter Song” clocks in at less than three minutes and, like “Cats And Dogs,” shows that THATH has a knack for saying a lot in a short song. Over gently finger-picked acoustic guitar, the band admits, “We’re just praying that we’re doing this right/ But that’s not the way it seems,” an appropriate statement from musicians in their early 20s just entering the fray.
“Sounds Like Hallelujah” is another song that calls for unity, and that sentiment fits perfectly with the jangling nature of the music. About halfway through, though, there’s a shift in tempo and style, with the band veering into more of a muted chamber-rock feel. The change is poignant and attention-getting without coming off as a gimmick.
As the album progresses, you can hear some of the early youthful optimism start to become colored with the reality of life, and this comes into sharp focus in closer “Heaven Go Easy On Me.” THATH sing that that a simple life is a good life, but acknowledge that if they don’t start making money, they’ll have problems. But they’re not ready to stop daydreaming: “Don’t follow your head, follow your heart,” they intone, subtly invoking the band’s name and the spirit that seems to drive them through good times and bad.