Under the guise of a full moon and with the added mystique of Friday the 13th, The Lumineers released the haunting III, their third studio album. Leading up to its release, band members Jeramiah Fraites and Wesley Schultz promoted the album as a piece that would stray from its traditional upbeat, foot-tapping folk to instead explore a path that not only approaches difficult topics but tackles them head on.
The album itself is divided into three chapters that follow three generations of a working-class family suffocating under the effects of alcoholism and drug addiction. Accompanied by 10 short films that act as a visual exploration of the piece, III is an intimately emotional experience that speaks to questions and feelings that are often ignored or left private.
“Donna,” the first track of the album, greets the listener with soft and intricate piano scale and the calm tone but stern words of Schultz, the lead vocalist. The track introduces the character of Donna as a harsh mother with an adverse past. It’s a jarring opening for a Lumineers album, many of which are typically heartfelt and serious but far less narrative.
Listeners are left with questions pertaining to the holes purposely left in the story as the album continues with “Life in the City,” a ballad with its traditional Lumineers folk sound that alludes to songs of past albums: “And if the sun don’t shine on me today / And if the subways flood and bridges break / Will you just lay down and dig or grave?” echoes the previous questions posed on “Sleep on the Floor,” a song belonging to Cleopatra, The Lumineers’ second album. The first chapter ends with the introduction of the character Gloria as an alcoholic mother. It is written from the perspective of the people Gloria has negatively affected, demonstrating the continuous nature of the hurt that addiction causes to the loved ones that it surrounds.
The second chapter begins with “It Wasn’t Easy To Be Happy For You,” a contrastingly slower sound than its preceding ballad. “I know you tried / But you are no friend of mine” is a blunt yet empathetic line that underlines the complex nature of the relationship between a loved one and one overcome by addiction. The song is exemplary of the album’s distinctly candid method of storytelling—there is no thought or emotion left unsaid which only works to increase the album’s authenticity. “Leader of the Landslide” and “Left for Denver” continue this unsharpened approach, respectively altering between an emotion-filled folk sound to a stripped ballad of Fraites longing for understanding, accompanied only by the beat kept by a guitar.
“My Cell” stands out among the other tracks, imitating the depth of emotion for which bands like Mumford and Sons and The Avett Brothers are known. Unarticulated feelings are subconsciously communicated through the raspiness in Fraites’ voice and the intense and fast-paced nature of the piano echoing the dips in emotion that the song explores. The third chapter tackles the broken relationships formed inevitably through the struggle of addiction, best illustrated by the heart-wrenching story of “Jimmy Sparks.”
Similar to Cleopatra’s “Patience,” “April” breaks the flow in the same way the month of April signifies a seasonal change every calendar year. The listener is granted 50 seconds of reflection by the means of a hallowing piano ballad that deepens the exhilarating experimentation that takes place on the album.
III gets a sonic fade to black in the form of “Salt and the Sea.” The song is conducted with a sense of tension running through it that intelligently compliments the somber tone of the last chapter of the album.
In an interview with NPR on the network’s Morning Edition radio show, Fraites and Schultz acknowledge the solemn and earnest nature of the record and that the performance of the songs for a concert crowd may not invoke the same lively atmosphere as their other albums. The musicians chalked this up to their purposeful approach to their latest work and detailed that their goal was not to adhere to expectations correlated to traditional folk/rock music, but instead to communicate important and raw emotions to help people connect to something.
III is a complete expression of after-hours thought. It is capable of drawing out uncommunicated feelings that are relatable to any listener in one way or another. The Lumineers’ ability to elegantly tackle huge topics only further highlights the organic talent of the band and illustrates a transition for the band’s work as it wades into territories of personal narrative and real life heartache.
Featured Image by Dualtone Records