With its debut full-length, The Dead Will Walk, Dear, the National Lights arrive as a bona-fide folk outfit with sparse, stringed instrumentation and harmonious vocals. Most of the acoustic-guitar-based songs on this sub-half-hour album tell stories of death, love and loss in a lonely Ohio town. But although it circles the psyches of murderers and their victims, The Dead Will Walk, Dear doesn’t draw much blood.
The album’s theme seems an unlikely one if you don’t study the liner notes: More than half of the ten songs are pleasant to listen to, but the gleeful harmonies from lead vocalist and songwriter Jacob Thomas Berns seem to stray from his intentions. Opener “Better for It, Kid” whispers intimacies of a girl’s passing from the first verse (“Let me cover you up/ in my button flannel shirt”), and the tragedy’s effect on the narrative (“Don’t make me say I’m sorry/ in my heart I meant no harm”). Sonya Maria Cotton adds ambience to such tracks as “Swimming the Swamp,” where the album’s intended purpose is well-composed in a narrative about a butcher’s boy building a tomb for his love. But for much of The Dead Will Walk, Dear, Berns’s arrangement of despair and nostalgia comes across as one-dimensional singing and strumming.