The Lumineers – Cleopatra
In the summer of 2012, American folk-rock trio the Lumineers had been toiling for a decade in various guises, but it wasn’t until the feel-good single Ho Hey (from their eponymous debut album) became part of the summer soundtrack on both sides of the Atlantic that they gained both the spotlight and an ever-growing fanbase. Four years later, and the group have released their sophomore effort, Cleopatra – a compact collection of 11 tracks that, although undoubtedly strong, seems torn between celebrating the broadly accessible, hand-clapping sound that launched them into the public eye, and a more restrained but equally evocative sound.
Broadly speaking, Cleopatra contains all the elements that made the group’s earlier effort a success: slowly, but irresistibly, building percussion, guitar and piano, draped behind the warm tones of frontman Wesley Schultz. Combined with a smattering of hip-tapping tambourines, the first half of Cleopatra plays to all of the strengths that powered previous standout tracks. Album openers Sleep On the Floor and Ophelia are notable as tracks that seem tailor-made for feel-good playlists and heady summer evenings. Schultz and co revel in this sound, exploring melancholy themes such as lost youth and suffocating small town isolation through lyrics that evoke first wistful smiles and then hand-clapping, foot-stomping enthusiasm as the drums build in defining tracks Angela and Cleopatra.
At the halfway point, however, the Lumineers either lose confidence in the authenticity of this widely appealing sound or decide to start the process of growing beyond the compositions and styles that have sustained them thus far. Gone are the tambourines and ever-building drums, replaced by a slower, more introspective affair. Tracks such as Sick in the Head and My Eyes are almost solo affairs, with Schultz rolling off slow atmospheric riffs to accompany airy vocals that offer a commentary on hollow fame and lost love. Although this material doesn’t pack the same rip-roaring and uplifting punch as the first half of Cleopatra, it is no worse for the shift in tone and pace. Indeed, these tracks still bear the unrelenting, if slower, progression that has become part of the band’s musical identity.
These latter tracks, including poignant instrumental closer Patience, are perhaps a sign of the Lumineers moving forward from the decidedly lighter fare of earlier work. If they can strike a balance between the two, they will undoubtedly continue to excel.
Cleopatra is released on 8th April 2016, for further information or to order the album visit here.
Watch the video for Ophelia here: