Lum­i­neer’s album, III, released Sept. 13 | Wiki­commons

Stories about the trickiest parts of the human expe­rience — like drug and alcohol abuse — are the most com­pelling. The Lum­i­neers are nothing shy of masters of this kind of musical sto­ry­telling. 

In their third album, “III,” released Sept. 13, the band takes their sto­ry­telling a step further. In addition to the album, the band released videos to accompany each song which combine to create a short film. The album is split into three anachro­nistic chapters (a fourth can be found on extended ver­sions, which includes bonus tracks). Each chapter rep­re­sents the effect of alco­holism on one of three gen­er­a­tions — mother and alco­holic, Gloria Sparks; her son, Jimmy, who later becomes a drug addict; and Jimmy’s son, Junior. 

The cin­e­matog­raphy of the short film is nothing short of movie-quality. It adds to the expe­rience of the album and gives Gloria, Jimmy, and Junior real faces. It gives the char­acters life and makes them human, instead of just fig­ments of the band’s col­lective imag­i­nation.  

Both Schultz and Friates expe­rience sec­ondhand the trauma of Fraites’s brother’ drug addiction. Schultz’s unnamed family member also struggled with addiction, and became homeless as a result. 

The album opens in the middle of a story, after Gloria Sparks, a strug­gling alco­holic, gives birth to her son. The accom­pa­nying music video shows how her alco­holism impacts her par­enting as she downs bottles of vodka and stumbles around with her child, Jimmy Sparks, at her hip, or leaves him on the floor with empty glass bottles and fumbles into bed to take a nap.

“Your mother never was one,” Schultz sings of Gloria’s mother Donna in the song of the same title, sug­gesting Gloria’s parents might have con­tributed to her addiction. “You couldn’t sober up to hold a baby,” he adds.

The second chapter is about Jimmy Sparks, and begins with “Leader of the Land­slide,” cutting to Junior’s teenage per­spective on living with his father’s addiction to drugs, alcohol, and gam­bling. The video opens with Jimmy leaving his son to bury their dead dog in the backyard alone, while he and a cackling band of friends go home to smoke pot, snort cocaine, and drink booze. 

Con­trasting with the pre­vious songs on the album, in which external voices comment on Gloria and Jimmy’s addic­tions, the most thought-pro­voking and trou­blesome song is “My Cell,” in which Jimmy digs into his addiction on his own.

It’s a lonely place, with “painted windows,” The Lum­i­neers sing, sug­gesting Jimmy can’t see beyond his alco­holism, and nobody can see into it. The song leaves lis­teners with a lin­gering, dis­com­forting impression that at least once, the addict could choose to love the bottle. 

“Falling in love is wonderful/Falling in love is so alone,” he says. “My cell. My pretty little cell.” 

The album ends with a final breath of hope. The band borrows the acoustics and some fitting lyrics from “Sailor Song,” a track off the deluxe edition of their second album, “Cleopatra,” released in 2016. They reprise the lyrics in “Sound­track Song,” the last bonus track on “III.” 

“Lone­liness, oh won’t you let me be/Let me be and I will set you free./Don’t you think if it was up to me/I would choose to be happy,” they sing. 

The video accom­pa­nying this song depicts grandson Junior fleeing from his father who is drunk and bleeding from a head wound in the family’s old blue truck. 

“Victory is in the fight/In men with hearts that bleed tonight/And only rest and rest is what is right,” the lyrics read. 

The tender emo­tions of the album are reflected in the band’s sig­nature raw, stripped sound of an acoustic guitar and clat­tering piano. Though the lyrics dive deep into the pain of alco­holism and addiction, the acoustics are still light­hearted and pretty. Like a fall morning, though the night is over, a chill clings to air — like Gloria clinging to the bottle, or Junior clinging to hope. 

The band con­tinues to develop its style in this album, but the core fea­tures haven’t changed. The Lum­i­neers are being who they are, and doing that well. They aren’t becoming some­thing new, which can’t be said for the third album of many other bands.

The best part of the album, though, is not the artistry of the music or cin­e­matog­raphy of the videos or even the band’s com­mitment to its own sound. Instead, it’s the band’s will­ingness to poke at old wounds and make uniquely trou­bling expe­ri­ences relatable for all. 

Not every family struggles with alco­holism, but we all struggle with some­thing.  Once again, The Lum­i­neers haven’t hes­i­tated to unwrap some of these dark parts of human nature, taking a shared expe­rience of pain and suf­fering and dis­cov­ering through it a shared hope.