It has been four years since The Lumineers released their self-titled debut album, which proved a perhaps-quiet hit amongst an onslaught of other indie-folk records that were similarly released by artists such as Of Monsters and Men. But that was 2012, when we were all giddy with excitement with the queen, with a home Olympics, with a general sense of nostalgia, embodied by endless “Keep Calm and Carry On” slogans – a mood that leant itself to the resurgence of folk. On first listen, Cleopatra bears so many similarities to its predecessor that it may as well have been an extension of the same album. Recent moves away from the banjo-strumming, foot-stomping category of indie-folk (we’re looking at you, Mumford & Sons) have garnered widespread attention and criticism from previously die-hard fans of the genre; suggesting that perhaps folk does still have an audience in today’s vastly different music scene.
The album opens with Sleep On The Floor, with the raw guitar and simple, stomping beat that The Lumineers established on their first record. The song lilts in almost lazy fashion, dropping away from the resounding drum beat intermittently throughout, allowing the vocals to dominate the track. The tempo picks up at around the two-minute mark, creating a swell that enlivens expectations for the rest of the album: later fading out into the simplicity of the song’s opening, forming a pleasing, circular track to kick things off. The second track opens with an organic sounding drum line, seemingly formed of stomps and claps, which is soon joined by an emphatic piano chord and a powerful opening vocal which remains throughout the first part of the song. This punchy opening is accompanied later by a quick, intricate piano line, which then embeds itself into the song, often mimicking the exact melody of the vocals. At around the midpoint the track opens up into its refrain, an admittedly joyous chant of “Oh Ophelia/ Heaven help the fool that falls in love”, though lyrically, The Lumineers remain on fairly standard ground, clearly singing within the style of the American country/folk genre, they emulate.
Titular track Cleopatra follows, and is lyrically one of the most intriguing songs on the album. “I was Cleopatra, I was young and an actress” sings the quite clearly male vocalist, Wesley Schultz, creating a sense of dislocation between the performer and the narrator of the song. The track itself has a retrospective feel, “I was late for this, late for that, late for the love of my life” sings Schultz, rooting us firmly in memory as the jubilant rhythm continues. This sense of vibrancy is often at odds with the lyrics; the chorus follows “when I die alone, when I die alone, when I die I’ll be on time”, creating a strange disconnect within the song.
One of the most immediately obvious characteristics of this album is the relatively short song length; there is hardly a track that breaks past three-and-a-half minutes. This is not necessarily a criticism, each song as it stands along certainly manages to capture a sense of the mood of the album as a whole, but this also quickly becomes a problem. The songs are so short, with such striking similarity, that it is difficult to distinguish each track from another; which when made into a cohesive album can often make for a gruelling listening experience. There are plenty of tempo changes within the songs themselves that do create a sense of variety, but even a track that begins with some level of differentiation often rises to or ends in a similar rousing bridge or chorus line. Though there is something to be said for this structure pertaining to the American-folk genre, that doesn’t mean the album doesn’t, in some places, become a monotonous listen.
The second half of the album does mark a slight change in pace, with Gale Song meandering through some more intricate instrumentation and reflective lyrics sung in a lower register than the preceding tracks. The song still contains the vocal intention that dominates the album, but more regularly gives way to some genuinely enjoyable instrumental sections that display the music itself as the craft it is, rather than an accessory to the stories that are told through the record. Gale Song is later followed by Sick In The Head, which opens with some intricate guitar work that rings over the same notes throughout the entirety of the song, sometimes obscured by a string piece or the rising vocals, but remaining ever-present. With a rather ethereal end section, Sick In The Head provides a thoughtful and welcome respite from the similarity of the other tracks, and in itself is a moment of real beauty, eventually fading out to a silent pause. Patience is the shortest and final track on the album at only one-and-a-half minutes and consisting of only a piano solo, and provides a pleasing conclusion to the album, with a childlike, lullaby tone that, while not doing anything to exciting, leaves a sweet taste.
Though Cleopatra is an attractive record with moments of real prettiness and joy, it would be wrong to claim that it offers anything particularly innovative or exciting. This is an album that seems to be almost exclusively geared toward a pre-existing audience; therefore it seems doubtful that this release is realistically going to win anybody over to the indie-folk scene. However, for those already passionate about American/Indie-folk, this album has the potential to become a firm favourite, as well as an affirmation that a genre that might already seem so dated, still has relevance on today’s music scene.