The Lumineers — Ophelia

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People will try to tell you that The Lumineers are not very good, but I am here to tell you that’s incorrect. The Lumineers are better than people will tell you they are.

While “Ho Hey” is admittedly two and a half minutes of twee optimism that gets old after three plays and maddening after six, the rest of their 2012 self-titled album is worth digging into. “Flowers In Your Hair” is the perfect opener, both short and sweet. “Flapper Girl” is something that probably should’ve been more popular, embodying the same charm as the singles, with much more nuance and piano. “Slow It Down,” as the title suggests, is a slow-burner. It’s the opposite of the microwaved folk song The Lumineers have come to be associated with.

Now it’s been nearly four years since that debut, which was polarizing, to say the least. The masses loved it and hated it. Critics loved it, hated it, and ignored it. It sold nearly four million copies worldwide, which is pretty unheard of for the style The Lumineers bring to the table.

I love folk music, folk-rock, Americana, or whatever you want to call it. But a major problem for me occurs when the music gets stale. Folk, by its nature, is pretty simplistic. Because of that, there’s a dangerous trap that musicians must avoid. For example, Mumford & Sons enthralled me with Sign No More. It was one of my favorite albums for a few months after I discovered it. Not long after, Babel came out and it almost made me angry in its unoriginality. A sophomore album that sounds like outtakes from a debut album is not good. (I should note that this is true for all genres, but it seems to be especially true for folk-oriented music.)

This is the challenge that The Lumineers face now, and it seems to be something they’re aware of. “The album is sonically pretty different from the first one,” lead singer Wesley Schultz told NPR. “The common thread is a lot of the percussion has remained.”

Our first glimpse at this step into the unknown is “Ophelia.”

The first set of good decisions are immediately apparent, as the song swells with plodding percussion and reverberating piano. It also benefits from a catchy hook and a tantalizing piano riff. It’s big and nostalgic. While the debut album hooked me with its slow, somber mood, there’s a sense of movement here. I’m not sure if I’d go as far as calling it optimistic, but “Ophelia” definitely catches The Lumineers gazing into the future.

I got a new girlfriend here

Feels like he’s on top

And I don’t feel no remorse

And you can’t see past my blindness

First singles are almost always an unfair way to assess the style of an album. The goal of the single is to generate buzz while only giving hints towards the album it promotes. Using the first song to guess about the other ten is pretty difficult. It’s impossible to say what Cleopatra will sound like, but “Ophelia” sounds like a step in the right direction. That said, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried about what the album holds.