Amidst the rocky and polluted pop landscape, indie-folk band The Head and the Heart are a shiny, unpolished diamond whose stylistic depth is both fantastical and grounded. Etched through three impressive studio albums, including 2016's excellent Signs of Light, the group--comprised of Jonathan Russell (vocals/guitar/percussion), Josiah Johnson (vocals/guitar/percussion/keys), Charity Rose Thielen (vocals/violin/percussion), Kenny Hensley (piano), Tyler Williams (drums/percussion) and Chris Zasche (bass)--draws upon Beatles-style songwriting and country inflections.
This year, they continue their Signs of Light Tour across the country, zipping through the mid-West this week before hitting the East Coast next month. The group also makes a return with two upcoming shows at Coachella in April. To celebrate, AXS.com takes a look back at their catalog and digs up their absolute 10 best songs. Read on for our picks.
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10. "These Days are Numbered"
With Thielen taking the lead here, this Let's Be Still cut is one of the band's most timely and important highlights. "I need this faith to keep me walking," she cries, an inward examination of her place in the world. In the wake of heartache, she wants to just feel something, anything again. "I want to feel the fire again, with you or anybody else..." she sings.
9. "Library Magic"
Harkening to the iconic work of the Beatles, this delightful dreamscape is a yearning timepiece, pinning together their own aspirations of brighter days. "Making music is what we do. Trying to weave the patterns for me and you. Trying to make the grasses green and the grown man cry," vocalists Russell and Thielen double down on the lead vocal, their caramel tones blending completely together into one.
8. "Sounds Like Hallelujah"
Featuring a jovial melody and a contrasting mix of stylistic flourishes, this deep cut on the band's self-titled bow is an epiphany of grandeur and purpose, cementing the album's overall tone. “I’m not walkin’ away. I’m just hearin’ what you’re sayin’ for the first time. Sounds like hallelujah for the first time," rings the hook.
7. "10,000 Weight in Gold"
Reflecting on life as a working musician, the weight of guilt and gratitude is inescapable amidst the exquisite strings, piano and guitar work. "If you take the kids and go, I can't blame you for the things you know. And when I'm out there on the road, I think you and those kids at home," unravels the song's most significant lyric. It's bright but with a fevered, dark pitch.
6. "Another Story"
Lifted from their sophomore album, 2013's Let's Be Still, this visceral track is a sorrowful meditation on the Newtown tragedy and the constant media coverage which resulted. "I see a world, a world turning in on itself. Are we just like hungry wolves howling in the night? I don't want no music tonight," the fretful and tenuous lyric claws. Tragically, the song is a rather timely moment, which could very well be about today's continued street murders.
5. "All We Ever Knew"
If you've listened to the band's new album Signs of Light at all, you'll know the record is threaded with shiny optimism, even when the lyrics are blurred and cynical. The romping opener to the LP has a powerful connection to the closing and title track. "What goes around comes around," croons frontman Russell, whose sharp vocal is impressively made and delivered. The hook is robust and fit for Top 40 radio, complete with thumping percussion and choral chants from the rest of the group. It's one of the most spirited entries of their songbook.
4. "City of Angels"
One of their glossier compositions, the track is a bouncy ode to Los Angeles, a sweeping toe-tapper romanticizing a city which can be satisfying and devastating all at the same time. Not only that, but they frame the narrative around love and finding a purpose. "I've found a lot of love in this town everywhere I go, but it never seems to stay and I've never seen it grow," reads the refrain.
3. "Down in the Valley"
With only a (nearly) acoustic setting on which to anchor their lyrics and voices, The Head and the Heart shine the brightest. This cut on their self-titled 2010 debut album is reminiscent of the Avett Brothers, with a distinctly whiskey-soaked nod to The Civil Wars (albeit incredibly subtle). "I wish I was a slave to an age-old trade like ridin' around on railcars and workin' long days," they wail aobut their independent lifestyle and struggles to make ends meet in the fickle business of music. Frankly, it is one of their most engaging moments of their career.
2. "Rivers and Roads"
The Head and the Heart's intimate moments are immensely powerful and muscular. "A year from now we'll all be gone. All our friends will move away, and they're goin' to better places. But our friends will be gone away." It's a smokey confessional of universal proportions. We all are at the mercy of the passage of time, left to tumble in the wind where ever life might lead us.
1. "Signs of Light"
The title cut to their third studio album is a stark and potent piano ballad (at first). There are few vocalists who can pull off minimalism, but Jonathan Russell's honest portrayal of heartache is raw and moving. As the song progresses, violin and pulsating percussion (including the soft jingle of tambourine) pepper the song, heightening the sense of wonder and lonesomeness--even if the silver and light melody makes the song rather...hopeful. "When you sleep, what do you dream? I need to know you're thinking of me," he laments.