Words // Scott Pingeton
Going into 2012 there were two bands I thought would absolutely explode this year. One was Alabama Shakes, and just one week shy of the release of their debut album it's safe to chalk that one up. The other was The Lumineers. Both bands came into 2012 with just an EP and a healthy dose of blog buzz under their belts. Whereas Alabama Shakes' hype was built around 4 throwback soul songs, the perch that The Lumineers found themselves on was perhaps even more precarious. Sure, their 7 song EP was great...but much of the attention was centered around live videos of one, simple folk song. "Ho Hey" held a lot of promise, but it was also a lot to live up to.
Driving through central Texas en route to SXSW, somewhere between Waco and Austin, Kyle (of Music Savage) threw on The Lumineers debut album and by the time the way too-short "Flowers In Your Hair" came to an end I knew that The Lumineers had delivered on the promise and buzz that "Ho Hey" had generated. You see, I could see the band going one of two ways -- either embracing the pop-friendly melodies that form the core of their sound, and layering on shiny, unnecessary production flourishes or, letting the songs stand on their own. Thankfully, the band took the latter path. Stripped down to just acoustic instruments and handclaps, it's easy for the melodies, songwriting and performance shine.
If anything, the album errs too much on the side of brevity and simplicity - but that is easily forgiven given the quality of the songs. Most of the songs are over before you know it - four of the first five tracks clock in under 3 minutes - never wearing out their welcome. The sound is live and raw, just three musicians in a room. The songs are catchy - strong melodies, pulsing rhythms and refrains that beg to be sung along to - but what binds it all together are Wesley Schultz's lyrics. These are stories that carry weight, parables put to music. It's easy to get behind music that you relate to, and that is the charm of The Lumineers. When Schultz sings "It's better to feel pain than nothing at all / The opposite of love is indifference" on "Stubborn Love" he's singing about himself, but the sentiment is universal; everyone takes something different from those words. That is the mark of a great song.
The Lumineers debut is successful on a lot of different levels. The songs and arrangements are not ambitious or challenging, they're just great, catchy folk-pop songs. And there's nothing wrong with that. Over the past couple years The Head And The Heart have made a name for themselves with a similar formula, and I can easily see The Lumineers following a similar path. 2012 has been incredibly strong for new music so far, but this is another record that's right at the top of my list.
Order The Lumineers' self-titled debut here. The Lumineers are playing Cafe 939 on April 20 with Kopecky Family Band - tickets are sold out.
Here's a great live video of "The Dead Sea" from The Sights Of Sounds: