The Lumineers defeat sophomore slump with ‘Cleopatra’

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The sophomore slump has become so common with artists that almost everyone’s follow up album is measured by if they regressed in comparison to its debut. The new surely chart topping album from the Lumineers, Cleopatra, proves that, and that the band is not simply here to bask in the folksy limelight that Mumford and Sons popularized circa 2009.

Sure, the Lumineers are full of saccharine and sentimentality. Ever since their gargantuan single “Ho Hey” was used in every movie trailer and Apple commercial, the Lumineers have become synonymous with wholesome anthems causing people to scream “I belong with you, you belong with me, you’re my sweetheart” over and over again. Cleopatra seems to be working against this popularity. Instead of wanting to fill large stadiums, The Lumineers go for a minimalist, intimate feel, one that’s more interested in your eyes swelling with tears than your vocal chords burning from overuse.

Sticking firmly within their indie folk and Americana roots, instead of plugging in like Mumford and Sons on last year’s Wilder Mind, Cleopatra is composed of elegantly harmonized strings, soft piano and subtle percussion. There are no grandiose anthems to be found, unless you count the raspy vocal crescendo in “Gale Song” or the radio-ready “Ophelia.” Even then, the album remains introspective and melancholic.

This sobering mood is most pointedly illustrated through the multiple Shakespearean references found throughout. “Ophelia” references the severely depressed love interest of “Hamlet.” The chorus alludes to the titular character’s death, but more so, stands in for that emptiness that comes with “the one” got away. Lost love is a recurring theme throughout the Lumineers’ short discography, but the emphasis on songwriting in this album makes the persistent sadness pronounced.

This follow-up doesn’t thrive off catchy hooks; instead the album’s standout track “Angela” has the band commenting on its past highlights. “Did you hear the notes, all those static codes in the radio abyss?” frontman Wesley Schultz croons. Not triumphant lyrics celebrating the platinum glory they found, but turning inward to question their own place within the industry.

Cleopatra sets a consistently weary mood, something that may not work for all of the fans won through the band’s debut album. Maybe the Lumineers could have played it light and fanciful, selling out arenas for years to come. Clearly folk is still en vogue, with Hozier, James Bay and Nathaniel Rateliff all still finding some extended airplay. Yet, there’s something beautiful about hearing a band mature and play it quiet instead of appeasing the masses. It’s not perfect, but Cleopatra is no sophomore slump.

Levi Hill covers film. Contact him at [email protected].