Album of the Week: The Head and the Heart, 'Signs of Light'

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The Head and the Heart, 'Signs of Light'
The Head and the Heart, 'Signs of Light' (Warner Bros.)

"Yeah, I know just where my heart should be / In the City of Angels"

What do they say about every cliché having a bit of the truth in it?

The difficult third album. The swimming pool in Laurel Canyon. Kung-fu training in China. Flying lessons. Volunteer work in Haiti. Going off the grid in the Rockies.

Moving to Los Angeles.

In a fever-dream recreation of the '70s, The Head and the Heart have made a very un-indie series of decisions leading to the release of Signs of Light, their new album. They left the hippest indie label and their hometown (Subpop and Seattle, respectively), while each member went their own direction to find themselves in disparate pursuits (not kidding about the kung-fu or flying lessons). Then they touched down in L.A. to try a fresh start with major label Warner Brothers to make an album that documents and celebrates their attempt to grow as artists and win in the big leagues of the music business, if such a thing matters in 2016.

The band emerged at the turn of the decade from the Pacific Northwest indie-folk-pop scene that also brought us Fleet Foxes and Blitzen Trapper, and they exploded behind a pair of albums cut in Seattle and filled with songs that could be both delicate ("Let's Be Still") and insistent ("Lost In My Mind"). Success kept the band on the road steadily for years, but their shows sometimes ended in chaos (like the night they almost broke up in Minneapolis), and what came across on record as a band of harmony was revealed to also include tension and struggle that could rival Fleetwood Mac in the '70s. In this way, it makes total sense for the band to head to the bright lights of L.A. for this next chapter. When the Head And The Heart regrouped last summer in Stinson Beach, Calif., to start writing together again, "it almost felt like we were a new band, trying things we hadn't tried," recalled bassist Chris Zasche. "We stayed at a bungalow on the beach. We'd wake up, have coffee and go boogie boarding. We were ready and excited to be back together."

"Making music is what we do / Trying to make the grasses breathe and a grown man cry"

More comparisons to Fleetwood Mac and LA in the '70s: As the Mac shed the their blues roots to embrace pop in the Stevie-Lindsay era, so too have The Head and the Heart moved away from "folksiness" to embrace a bigger, bolder musical vision — one filled with louder guitars, heavier rhythms and bigger arrangements, all encased in gorgeous vocal harmonies that evoke artists like Lucius, the Staves, and classic artists like Crosby Stills and Nash, and again, Fleetwood Mac. More influence spotting: There's a point in first single, "All We Ever Knew," that harks back to the Traveling Wilburys, and another in "False Alarm" that seems melodically nicked from The 'Mats "Swinging Party." Then "Library Magic" tells the tale of the band's near breakups and coming through to the other side.

Then you take the album cover, with band members posed around a swimming pool set in a tree-filled lot. Is it in Laurel Canyon, or are they playing off the L.A. cliché with a wink to us? Does that world still exist, or can it be updated for this century?

It doesn't really matter. What does matter is that the music inside Signs of Light shows a band refreshed, moving in new directions, trying to make timeless pop rock inspired by each other and their lives and the music around them.

Resources

The Head and the Heart - official site

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