What is it that sets folk pop outfit The Lumineers apart from their peers? On the surface, they seem a fairly regulation Americana act. Rootsy, heartfelt yet understated, The Lumineers hold lyrical intelligence, emotional introspection, analogue instrumentation and old-fashioned flaws-and-all musicianship to be of higher value than trendy production or sonic effects.
Yet since they first broke through on US indie label Dualtone in 2011, all three of their albums have gone top 10 in the UK and top two in the US, with 2016’s Cleopatra hitting the top spot on both sides of the Atlantic.
While most acclaimed and comparable contemporary Americana artists (such as Jason Isbell, Josh Ritter and the Lumineers’ gifted producer Simone Felice) have modest streaming figures and play clubs and theatres, The Lumineers have more than 13 million monthly listeners on Spotify and will start touring the UK’s arenas in February.
Their fourth album, Brightside, offers nine short and sweet songs about a precarious relationship. It clocks in at just 30 minutes and is over before you’ve almost got to grips with it. But it burrows under the skin, luring you back to explore the ambiguities of their beguiling miniatures.
Could The Lumineers’ secret be something as simple as choruses? Their breakout hit, Ho Hey, was all chorus, a rambunctious singalong that swept them from the indie circuit to the Grammy awards in a few dizzy months. They were perceived as America’s answer to Mumford & Sons, but pursued a more intimate musical path, shedding members to boil down to the core songwriting partnership of guitarist-vocalist Wesley Schultz and drummer Jeremiah Fraites. But they never relinquished their affection for a big, meaty, singalong chorus, and Brightside is full of them.
A.M. Radio starts out as an introspective recollection of a volatile relationship set to a delicately picked guitar, the mood high-strung and pessimistic. But with a boom-boom of the bass drum, the chorus arrives to pledge eternal devotion: “As long as you run, I couldn’t give you up.”