I really hate to be one of those cynical reviewers who accuse a band of bandwagon-jumping, but let’s face it: there’s no way Seattle-based outfit The Head And The Heart can avoid the Fleet Foxes comparisons. What do you expect when you ply your trade in rootsy, old-time Americana?

I suppose you could get away with arguing that there’s no crime in taking cues from the likes of The Band and Avett Brothers… but I’m still inclined to be skeptical, especially when the CSNY-reminiscent vocal harmonies here on their debut self-titled record seems calculated to target the folk-meets-gospel-barbershop blend that their Sub Pop labelmates have made a name with.

Defenders of the sextet might well point out that 10,000 fans can’t be wrong: before being signed to Sub Pop, the band had pushed their self-recorded album to impressive sales figures as well as a management deal with Death Cab For Cutie manager Jordan Kurland. Undoubtedly, it IS a well-produced, musically competent and well-marketed record, swirling with scene-watcher savvy. On top of violin touches and piano licks you’ll find tight vocal harmonies from co-vocalists Josiah Johnson and Jonathan Russell, both of whom seem to be competing to see who can sound more like Ryan Adams.

But that musical vocabulary is never put to interesting use–the opening two-track medley of Cats And Dogs into Coueur D’Alene starts you off with a slow jam to orientate you with the different instruments, and from then on it’s all yawnfully predictable, even through the album’s best moments on Down In The Valley, a number that yearns cloyingly for nostalgia.

I really wanted badly to like this record, especially when the band themselves try so earnestly hard, wearing their desire for approval as blatantly as any other emotion on the album. But in the over-saturated indie folk-pop market, you’re gonna need considerably more than the run-of-the-mill to make a dent, and unfortunately that’s exactly what The Head And The Heart is.

It’s not confidential that they’ve got potential–but if they want to have a real shot at producing great music and escaping the Fleet Foxes comparisons, they’re going to need a major injection of cojones and imagination.

(Samuel C Wee)