The studio versions of The Lumineer’s latest songs, which make up their new record III, are most likely the only chance a listener will have to hear the tracks unencumbered. With heaps of playful, fun melodies overdramatic heartfelt, instantly relatable lyrics, the Denver based folk-rockers have created an album of tunes that, when played live, will have hordes of devoted fans singing every note back to the band at the same volume they’ve been doing so for years. The purity of these songs will only exist on III.
Every note, every syllable, and every moment of silence in between is emotionally charged. Through its course, songwriters Wesley Schultz and Jeremiah Fraites make it emphatically clear that the arrangements don’t have to be dense for the songs to be intense.
For this pivotal project, Schultz and Fraites brought Simone Felice back into the fold and added violinist Lauren Jacobson. Felice helmed the group’s chart-topping, certified platinum second album, Cleopatra (2016), and Jacobson has now appeared on all three Lumineers’ albums and has played with them since 2011. She has also joined the band as a touring member, joining pianist Stelth Ulvang, bassist/backing vocalist Byron Isaacs and multi-instrumentalist Brandon Miller. (After eight years, cellist/vocalist Neyla Pekarek left the group in 2018 to embark on a solo career.)
The work is titled III not just because it’s The Lumineers’ third full-length album, but more significantly because nine songs are presented in three chapters, each focusing on one of three main characters. The chapters also serve as the visual bookend for a sequential video series comprising the nine tracks, each directed by Kevin Phillips (whose 2017 film “Super Dark Times” is streaming on Netflix).
III is so taut in its narrative progression that one might assume it was created with premeditation, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. On the contrary, the work willed itself into existence out of a series of seemingly unconnected elements that magically locked together into a coherent whole.
These elements included detailed notes presciently scrawled by Schultz in a journal more than a decade ago: depicting both the harrowing experience of trying to save an alcoholic close relative from herself, and Schultz’s memories of a deeply absurd family portrait at Sears when he was a child. Another crucial component was a song commissioned and subsequently rejected by a filmmaker, which features a haunting piano passage repurposed by Fraites from years earlier when he barely knew how to play the instrument.
“The chapter idea started percolating back in 2007,” Schultz explained. “I have notes in my journal from that time about three EPs all tying together, but each one having a theme and forming an album. We were going to call it Love, Loss and Crimes. It just never happened — I had the title, but I didn’t have the songs.”
In collaboration with Fraites, whose expressive piano plays a central role in the drama and beauty of these songs, Schultz refined and connected the characters who inhabited the songs they’d worked up. “When you’re working with someone creatively to come up with ideas,” says Fraites, “your good idea is made great when it’s combined with someone else’s good one. After 14 years of Wes and I collaborating, it seems like strong ideas are just flowing out of us quicker and better than ever before.”