Courtesy of Dualtone Records

September 17, 2019

TEST SPIN | The Lumineers — ‘III’

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When I think of The Lumineers, I think of short-brimmed fedoras, orange-tinted beards, suspenders, light blue cotton button-ups and beer that originated from independent breweries in either Austin or Portland. To put it simply, The Lumineers are a band that has tastefully lived up to their modern farmboy chic aesthetic.

All jokes aside, the music produced by The Lumineers has been a mainstay in popular independent music. They are a band palatable to the general public, which is a difficult feat for many indie groups given that most market their style of music to a unique and niche audience. The Lumineers, now three albums into what is proving to be a wildly successful career, have remained consistent in their style and tone. The band, composed of six talented musicians and headed by Wesley Schultz, has refused to give into the seemingly inevitable pop-music, sellout-esque tropes that so many of their fellow alternative bands have succumbed to in recent years. The Lumineers have fascinatingly transcended the “alternative” or “indie” branding and made their way onto the Billboard Hot 100 on three separate occasions while never compromising their musical values. The band’s third album, aptly titled III, reinforces this musical cohesion while emboldening and expanding their repertoire of soothing, folksy and endlessly artistic music. It is a true joy to listen to.

III begins strong, taking no prisoners with its first track “Donna,” a delicate piano ballad about a woman of the same name who “loves to judge strangers’ karma.” The piano melody is simple and catchy, creating the most pleasant sort of earworm. The melody and lyrics tie beautifully into a song that manipulates the listener into feeling a sense of crushing melancholia. While it is difficult to know the underlying story behind the song, I imagine a disheartened woman struggling through the cult of domesticity, living a life she never wanted. The masterful songwriting and composing skills of Schultz and Jeremiah Fraites allow the listener to feel Donna’s pain despite knowing very little about her life. It is for this reason that The Lunmineers are such a successful band; the members write ambiguously about angst and sadness in such a way that their music pulls at any and all listener’s heartstrings. Donna’s sadness, her angst and her desire to run away are something to which anyone listening to the song can relate.

Following “Donna” are the songs “Life in the City” and “Gloria.” According to each song’s respective music videos — all 10 of which were released with the intention of consecutive viewing — the album follows the life of the woman introduced to the listener in “Donna.” “Life in the City” and “Gloria” are both upbeat songs reminiscent of the traditional Lumineers sound found in past hits such as “Ho Hey” and “Submarines.” In “Life in the City,” loud asymmetrical drum beats, repetitive piano tempo, tweaky guitar strums and a hearty melody are tied together with lyrics like “I knew the dream had died” and “will you just lay down and dig your grave?” The shocking imagery of alcoholism in “Gloria” is compounded with the final lyrics: “There’s easier ways to die / Gloria / Have you had enough?” This tactic for songwriting has been employed by The Lumineers time and time again in an effort to deceive their listeners into thinking what they are listening to is a victorious Americana ballad, when in reality, the truth behind the songs is much darker and much more authentic — the American Dream gone sour.

“Donna,” “Life in the City” and “Gloria” compose the first triad on the album. Instead of numbering the songs on the record sequentially from one to 10, The Lumineers chose instead to list every song up to the number three in a fitting homage to the album’s title and its stance in the band’s repertoire. The only song on the album that breaks this numerical cycle is “Salt and the Sea,” which is listed as the fourth song on the album, though it occupies the tenth spot. Perhaps there is a reason The Lumineers chose this song to be the one to break the mold — “Salt and the Sea” is one of the most heart-wrenching songs on the album. Schultz sings with vocal imperfections that lend themselves to the palpable emotions one feels when listening to it.

The last four songs of the album are darker than those found in the beginning. “My Cell” manifests a sense of dire loneliness while “Jimmy Sparks” functions as a Woody Guthrie-esque ballad painting a picture of a destitute, land-locked America, the song’s namesake a prisoner in that world. “April” then bridges the gap between “Jimmy Sparks” and “Salt and the Sea.” This binding agent contains only a piano melody — no lyrics. The piano notes swell, signifying an impending darkness. Total engulfment in the darkness is stopped, however, by small, high-pitched staccato notes that give the bleak melody a glimmer of hope, representing an escape from the American Nightmare.

The Lumineers’ third album is a triumph of melodic storytelling. It is refreshing to see a band stay true to their sound. The Lumineers have not only remained consistent with their quality, but they have also matured masterfully through the years. This maturity is evidenced by the seriousness one feels when listening to III. Gone are the days of “Ho Hey” gaiety. The Lumineers have ceased producing music merely as a band, but as genuine artists. III is a journey of crushing human honesty in the most literal sense. I recommend that anyone who listens to this group to delve into the music and truly listen to the lyrics. The music found in III speaks to the souls of those who have found themselves discontented, sad or hopeless. III makes its listeners feel less alone.
Madeline Rutkowski is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. She can be reached at [email protected].