The Lumineers "Cleopatra"

As if to prove that indie-folk/rock is in the midst of a huge resurgence (think Mumford & Sons) The Lumineers’ sophomore album debuted at the top of the Billboard 200 and the U.K. album charts. The band’s first release benefitted from the catchy single “Hey Ho” a song that helped bring the band a Grammy nomination for best new artist. Cleopatra has no such obvious hits as the trio opts for a more pensive, introspective route, particularly in the latter portion of the album. The emphasis here is on indie-folk.

The Lumineers are songwriters Wesley Schultz and Jeremiah Fraites and cellist/vocalist Neyla Pekarek. They are joined by producer Simone Felice (who gets co-writing credits on two tracks) and a small group of contributing musicians. Arrangements are mostly acoustic and the production is minimalist. Piano, guitar, and strings are the primary instruments with occasional dramatic emphasis from percussion. Keeping pace with the mid-tempo melodies Schultz and Fraites lyrics are filled with shadows, doubts, and women haunted by their past or who haunt the memories of others. “Ophelia” is one of the latter, a past love who never truly recedes.  A faded actress waxes nostalgic about her life choices on “Cleopatra.”

“Angela” searches for purpose in a life that may not offer it. It’s heavy stuff for two young men to be examining. Wesley Schultz’s sweet tenor delivers these biographical snippets with nuance and a genuine sense of empathy. He seems to care deeply about his characters.  

Cleopatra moves beyond his female characters but the sense of urgency and discontent permeates others songs. “Sleep on the Floor” captures the desperation to escape a small town life. Anticipation of life’s adventures and dangers builds to passionate crescendo in “Gun Song.” Questions of judgement and morality play at the edges of songs like “Long Way From Home” or “Sick in the Head.”  Often these songs feel like warnings of the dangers of over-stepping boundaries. It’s a surprisingly somber second release, particularly after the joyful debut, but it is also a beautiful and thoughtful album from a band that clearly isn’t concerned about mega-stardom.

Rosemary Welsch (Afternoon Mix)