Album Review: Hearts & Mines - "Find Your Way"

Review by Mark Laffin

I have to admit, I’m finding myself somewhat troubled with this album. It has many elements that make a good rock record, but I’m really struggling. What truly makes a good rock album anyway? Its music like this that has me asking myself these types of questions. The reason for this is because there are many things that are good about this first album from Ottawa’s Hearts & Mines. The musicianship is well executed, the songwriting is honest and sincere, and the production has a very professional sounding polish. Lead singer Matt Luloff has a very impressive vocal repertoire, and sounds like he should very well be the singer for a big rock band. As per the band’s bio, Luloff formed the band upon returning from a military tour in Afghanistan, which serves as the inspiration behind this collection of songs. You can hear the urgency in the songs, as Luloff laments social injustice and crimes against the human spirit, upon a backdrop of ambitious melodies and a severely tight rhythm section. It all comes together to create a sonic amalgam that sounds very AOR friendly, and wouldn’t sound at all out of place in radio blocks between Matthew Good and Snow Patrol. I guess this may perhaps be my gripe. This album follows the textbook, paint by numbers formula for standard FM rock, and does actually achieve a well accomplished piece of work in this particular vein. The problem is that what makes the difference between good and great music, is that sometimes you have to break the mould and bend the rules a little bit.

The album opens with “Echo”, a song driven by a passable Brit-pop like melody, which is equally delivered by its reverb soaked guitar chords, and uplifting piano lilt. Luloff’s voice bears an uncanny resemblance to Brandon Boyd of Incubus, and offers a plaintive and somewhat optimistic vocal performance. The chorus then comes alive with an orchestral bombast that is forgivably suggestive of Coldplay or latter-day U2. I’m quite positive the band had large arenas with elaborate light shows in mind while writing some of these grand scale hooks. Although this is not what I would describe as an entirely daring rock outing, there’s something rather fulfilling about the song. “Jettison” comes as a bit of a surprise with it’s turned up guitars, and it’s near pop-punk infusion. It feels somewhat familiar, but is effectively dynamic and has a rather engaging groove.

The third track, “Complicating Matters” is a forgettable 3 minutes of stock sounding radio rock, which honestly has no memorable hook to speak of. However things do improve with “Wrong”, which offers a delicate fusion of hard sounding guitar and a canorous piano melody. The harmony vocals here are also worth noting, and there’s a really cool underlying second guitar line that subtly creeps in on the chorus. “Snakes and Ladders” is unfortunately a vastly unimpressive snore-fest that sounds as if striving to make way into mainstream pop-radio. The song actually kind of reminds me of Vertical Horizon, if anybody actually remembers them. The next song, “Black Sand” is probably the album’s best track. The song features heavy, layered distorted guitars hammering out a stark and unsettling melody, with a delicate piano line lurking in the background during the verses. Again, we have an epic sounding chorus that fills sonic space with soaring vocals, striking synth, with some more imperious orchestral embellishments. “Another World” is another high point, with a majestic sounding synth line carefully accentuating the angry, power chords.

As I said, there are many good things about this album. There are several palatable moments here, and the band shows great potential for mainstream radio success. Fortunately for these guys, the status quo for heavily rotated airwave fodder lends much grace toward music that is contrived and formulaic. Radio programming tends to rely almost solely on tried and true sounds, and thus compromising any promise to shed light on acts that are more textured and creative. That’s ok though. The elitist music snobs are rather content with not having their sacred records played to death to the masses, and all the while, there are many bands out there who do aspire for FM heroism. If this is what this band is aiming for, they have the right recipe. My real problem with this band is the lack of originality and edge. I wouldn’t say that they are making any mistakes, as there is no question of musical competency, but there is definitely a missing X factor. I’m also rather convinced of the band’s conviction and earnestness. There are some genuine sentiments of hope, faith and self-discovery throughout the lyrical landscape here. There is honestly just very little to really catch one’s attention. It’s kind of like having a really great story to tell, but not having any kind of interesting way to tell it. This band may face an imposing challenge in winning over discerning listeners such as myself, but if their ultimate goal was to achieve success in blending in with the rest of the mediocrity filling up today’s airwaves, I would consider this a valiant effort.


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