With its bootstrapping, raw acoustic energy radiating their passion and lyrical craftsmanship, The Lumineers’ eponymous debut album marks the band’s well-deserved territory in the indie-folk genre, despite the rash of recent neo-Americana acts. The Lumineers is an incredibly impressive opening statement from a band with a lot to say, but who is determined to say it with a level of emotional integrity that is bound to resonate across genre.
After hearing one or two songs that begin deceptively slow, only to amp up a wash of drums, violin, and tambourine half-way through, listeners will feel gleefully obligated to see the album through to its enjoyable conclusion. Lead vocalist Wesley Schultz's passion and energy comes through as both engaging and relatable, while still buoyed by stirring lyrical illustrations. The album feels like an enthusiastic jam session captured on tape, and some tracks even have the bustle of an audience behind it. You'll find no shades of gray or shoe-gazing from these musicians. When Schultz sings about love or regret, it's not full of sorrow and remorse, but rather the sense of joy he held close and maybe hasn't quite released yet; never morbid and always teeming with an upbeat sense of optimism.
Their somewhat unrefined, or perhaps enjoyably unpolished sound is a delightful exhibition of their folk improvisation and instrumental intuition, but it also indicates they have considerable space to grow and mature. One could imagine them ably complementing musicians like Andrew Bird or Ryan Adams on tour, but they also show that there’s plenty of new sounds and rhythms for them to grow into.
If there is an overarching theme to the record, it would be unrequited love. On their single “Ho Hey”, arguably the album’s best track, Schultz calls out a lost love for choosing a different man, thereby lamenting what could have been between them: "I don't think you're right for him / Think of what it might have been if you / Took a bus to Chinatown / I'd be standing on Canal and Bowery / And she'd be standing next to me / I belong with you, you belong with me / You're my sweetheart." It’s the sort of song you can see backing the next promo for an angsty, post-grad, 'new kid in a big city' television drama. This is just one of their genuine and ambitious tracks that will have listeners tapping their feet.
One key element of the album that differentiates it from many of its contemporaries is the band’s ability to harness the energy they put on tape. Some songs seem to progress with anticipation akin to a promising a first date, others like “Classy Girls” unfold the near literal event, while songs like “Stubborn Love” are imbued with a sense of hope that surpasses and outlasts heartbreak. One hopes they will avoid a one-note type of album, however, that follows the similar tracks of lost or un-returned love or and even a lyrical litany of “the ones that got away.” It’ll be particularly intriguing to see where The Lumineers steer next after such an emotionally upbeat and yet honest musical contribution.
This record, and frankly this band represent more than just a progression in indie-folk scene-- they're a folk jam band gone right. The intersection of talent and passion on both lyrical and instrumental fronts demonstrates considerable ability and good instinct. They’re a band that seems more motivated by love of their craft and the euphoric rush of their conglomerate expression than the need to express pessimistic and cynical tones. This group is full of story-weavers, who sing and play with an ease and simplicity that avoids overproduction or heavy handed emotionality. For every shoe-gazing, emo, sad-sack band that wallows in break-ups and heartache, there should be more bands, and more albums in fact, like The Lumineers that so sharply counteract a sense of apathy and gloom with brighter landscapes and bittersweet life tinged with hope.