The Head and the Heart’s head says pop, heart says folk.
It’s a classic dilemma for artists: tiptoe toward the poppy style that may place them more within the mainstream, or bunker down within the roots that helped them cross the musical threshold from hobby to career in the first place? For The Head and the Heart, the answer is a bit of both. You can almost hear the debate in the band’s fourth album, Living Mirage, and even more so live, as The Head and the Heart danced between their original homespun sounds and newer pop-rock aspirations on Thursday, October 4th
at DC’s The Anthem.
Living Mirage is THATH’s poppiest record to date, but feels more like a fresh start than an accidental watering-down of the folk-rock style that originally pushed the Seattle group into the limelight in 2011. The sextet opened their DC show with the album’s namesake track, “Living Mirage,” a synergistic meshing of indie broodiness and pop-rock production that aptly sets the table for the variety found in the band’s eight-year catalogue.
THATH explore more of a big-band sound throughout Living Mirage, most notably in the album’s lead single, “Missed Connection,” an undeniably catchy tune with its smooth vocals and energetic “nah nah nah” refrain. Their folkier songs from 2011’s self-titled album and 2013’s Let’s Be Still still shine through with their pureness, though, stripping away the extra production to reveal the group’s origins.
“Let’s Be Still” took the crowd back to the band’s roots and took lead man Jonathan Russell back to his hometown roots as well. Russell, who hails from Richmond, Virginia, had his family in town for the DC show, and sensed the proximity of his home before diving into the 2013 title track.
“You know, there are certain smells that remind you of places, and I got this pizza smell by the bathrooms that reminded me of Richmond,” Russell laughed. “I know you guys around here have fireflies in the summer, so take out your phone and wave it around so we have fireflies one more night. Take me to Virginia.”
THATH’s homegrown charm of course delighted the audience with hits like “Lost in My Mind” and “Down in the Valley,” but the band proved they can lean into their newer radio-ready sound, too. “Brenda” may be the tastiest snack of pop from the latest album, its melodies blending Russell and Charity Rose Thielen’s vocals with catchy synth and piano and creating a particularly playful exchange when performed live.
While Russell was front and center most of the evening, Thielen was peppered throughout in a myriad of ways, the warmness and uniqueness of her voice adding depth to each song, along with her contributions on guitar, keyboard, and violin. Thielen finally shone through during “Honeybee,” her vocal range and power turning what otherwise could have been a forgettable track into one of Living Mirage’s wins.
The band capped off the evening with "Rivers and Roads," which spurred a peaceful, unified sway in the crowd and gave Thielen a final chance to show off her vocal prowess. When a track like “Rivers and Roads” can withstand the test of time and remain so special, it’s easy to question why THATH would shift toward the carefully-produced mainstream commerciality that’s felt significantly more throughout Living Mirage. But if the group’s head's recognition of the value of pop is outweighing their heart’s disposition toward folk, then at least the transition seems earnest.
“If you don’t know where you’re going, don’t you wish that on me,” Russell orders in “I Found Out.” Living Mirage is another step away from the band's 2011 debut, but it seems like The Head and the Heart know where they’re going—get on board with the evolution or don’t wish that inconclusiveness in direction on them.
All We Ever Knew
Let's Be Still
Up Against the Wall
Lost in My Mind
Life's One Big Mystery
I Found Out
Sounds Like Hallelujah
Down in the Valley
See You Through My Eyes
Rivers and Roads
Reviewed by Kayla Wilkinson, photos by Xavier Dussaq.