Maybe it’s because I live in sensitive, bearded, porchy Portland, Oregon, but like David Lowery sang in “Teen Angst,” I’m convinced that the world needs another folk singer like I need a hole in the head. So when my taskmasters at MVRemix tossed the Lumineers’ self-titled debut album my way for review I caught it with one hand and reached for my revolver with the other because I knew exactly what I was in for.
Like the British Mumford and Sons, the Lumineers specialize in folk rock with the “rock” part conspicuously excised. Having climbed on the roots bandwagon at the same moment that many of their more creative and talented peers are scampering out of it in favor of a more baroque, progressive approach to folk rock, the Lumineers make folk music for people who aren’t really music fans. There’s nothing here you haven’t heard done a thousand times already in films and commercials: plaintive white dude singing something nebulously romantic over acoustic guitars and strings, all of it delivered with sunny earnestness and obliviousness to the last fifty years of popular music.
Now your humble reviewer is prone to laud works of musical art that either eschew genre for the sake of playful experimentation, even if they are flawed, or works of musical art that adhere to the formalities of a genre but demonstrate supreme excellence within that genre, but The Lumineers accomplishes neither; it’s a somewhat dull, exquisitely recorded collection of songs in the folk rock genre.
Wesley Schultz, the purported bard of this trio, has a pleasant enough voice that at times reminds me of Hamilton Leithauser’s (Walkmen) without the whole raspy Paul Westerberg thing that that fellow does so well. Mr. Schultz and his two bandmates forge an intricate acoustic soundscape with pianos, assorted stringed instruments, drums, clapping, footstomping, and even ambient crowd noises.
So what’s the problem? Same as ever – it’s the songs, stupid. Now let me share one of Roberta’s Rules (and there are always exceptions) with you; Interesting or clever lyrics cannot really elevate the quality of a song. The lyrics here are clever enough but I didn’t hear anything brilliant (listen to Eleanor Friedburger or Craig Finn if you’ve forgotten what lyrical brilliance sounds like). Ignoring the lyrics for a moment, the songs here are all very similar. None stray more than a boulder’s throw from the tried and true path of commercialized folk rock. There is not a single surprising chord or note on this album. Is it too much to want to be surprised these days by a little dissonance? Not that this record won’t be a great success.
I look forward to hearing “Slow It Down” and other Lumineers songs in car commercials soon but I’m not buying either. By the way, real folk music isn’t pleasant. It’s terrifying. “Kill yourself!” Look it up.