REVIEW: Lumos by Harry and the Potters

If you weren’t involved in the height of Harry Potter’s thing in the late 2000s, you might find it weird that there was–and still is–a varied and vibrant musical genre called wrock, or wizard rock, entirely comprised of bands and artists making songs about the wizarding world. If you were involved, you are probably not surprised–and you’ve probably heard of Harry and the Potters.

Harry and the Potters was founded by brothers Joe and Paul DeGeorge in 2002. Their origin story reads very similarly to a punk band origin: formed in a backyard in 2002 when some bands backed out of a concert, and they needed something, anything, to fill the stage. Their first album, Voldemort Can’t Stop the Rock!, came out in 2003, and they began touring American libraries. Over the years, they developed their gimmick–the brothers both perform as Harry Potter, albeit at different stages of his life–started gaining a following, and became icons. They’re generally credited with creating wrock as a genre.

Harry and the Potters have been touring semi-regularly ever since, generally at a mix of traditional music venues and public libraries. They’ve also contributed to various EPs and wizard rock charity albums, but they hadn’t produced a full-length album since 2006. On their Kickstarter for Lumos, they explain that, in these years without a full album, they’ve been adults who live in separate states, which is reason enough to not have time to make a new album. But since they left off on full-length albums in 2006, they’d never ended up writing a response to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the final Harry Potter novel that came out in 2007.

It probably also helps that in that intermediary period, the messages of Harry Potter were important, but seemed less like crucial lessons. As MTV points out in a Harry and the Potters Profile from 2016, the brothers removed “Cornelius Fudge is an Ass” from their live show setlist when Barack Obama was elected. It returned shortly after Donald Trump announced his 2016 presidential campaign.

Lumos is an album about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, but it’s also an album about untangling feelings about distrust, love, evil, and fighting against powerful enemies. The key themes of the Harry Potter series felt relevant then, but Lumos asks how relevant they feel now–what we should look back on and ask ourselves about these books, now that we’ve all grown up and Harry Potter mania is no longer an all-consuming force in our lives.

What I received for my pledge.

I Kickstarted Lumos, and for my $35 I received the album on two full-sized vinyls, as well as a 45 single with “Harry Potter Boogie” on it. When my pledge was fulfilled by Backerkit, I also opted to add on a sticker that proclaims “Death Eater Punks F*** Off.” (The sticker is uncensored.) Kickstarter backers could also get the album on CD, on a USB stick shaped like Hagrid, and could get an album of songs cut from the album, called Mostly Camping.

The vinyl album is nicely done. The album art is a beautiful, understated piece by Dan McCarthy, of Harry in the woods with the ghosts of his past. The sides of the vinyls are emblazoned with simple symbols, the basic components of the Deathly Hallows logo that covers the last side of the second vinyl. The “Harry Potter Boogie” 45 is a little more tongue in cheek; the art on the vinyl emulates 45 singles from the 60s, and the little record came with a jukebox directory insert. You know, in case I have any handy jukeboxes to put it in.

Lumos has 16 songs across the 2 vinyls, or download, or CD, depending on your format, and they range from melancholy, to bright, to pointed political statements, to little personal reflection songs. Harry and the Potters have always had a fairly diverse sound (well, as diverse as you can get when you record in your own living room), and this album is more diverse than ever.

Harry and the Potters have been fairly pointedly political from their onset; the title track off Voldemort Can’t Stop the Rock! name-drops Tipper Gore and her attempts in the early 2000s to get certain kinds of music out of the hands of children. “The Trace,” “No Pureblood Supremacy,” and “The Banality of Evil (Song for Albert Runcorn” are all varying degrees of openly political, and some of the best lyrics on the album come from these songs. “The Trace” criticizes surveillance of citizens: “Why they worried so much about wizard teens?/In times of peace, it seems like overreach/And opens the door to misuse in times of war…” Both “Banality of Evil” and “No Pureblood Supremacy” call out “spineless employees…/Complicitly upholding this puppet regime.” For my money, the best of their political anthems is “On the Importance of Media Literacy Under Authoritarian Rule,” which rhymes “Ministry” and “obsequiously” and asks its listeners to question their media in the chorus: “What’s the narrative?/Who’s it benefit?”

Looking at the lyrics inside the album, it’s hard to see how such complicated, dense lines can translate to something listenable, but the DeGeorges pull it off easily, and some of their most complicated songs are the ones that people will dance to at their live shows. “The Trace” makes you want to jump up and down in your Converse sneakers; “You’re Not the Wizard” will make you tap your toes while Harry Potter wrestles with Dumbledore’s problematic history.

A personal favorite off the album is “Hermione’s Army,” an anthem about how great Hermione is, calling back to the many times she was the smartest and most important person through the whole Harry Potter series. Wizard rock is often at its best when it highlights things the narrative implies, but does not directly discuss; this song put Hermione’s incredible accomplishments to a Talking Heads-esque number, repeating how much she’s accomplished just by “Hoping to do some good in this world.”

Another favorite is “Where’s Ron,” featuring Kimya Dawson. It’s a duet between Harry and Hermione, about the period where Ron blows up and goes home in the seventh book. The song is, unlike many of the others, very simple, and powerful for its simplicity, all about how they aren’t talking about the Ron-shaped hole in their lives.

The second side of the second vinyl is referred to on the Kickstarter campaign page as the “Hallows suite.” The three songs, named “The Cloak,” “The Stone, and “The Wand,” highlight, again, the diverse sound of Harry and the Potters. “The Cloak” is an energetic song about how badly Harry wishes he was normal. “The Stone” is a reflective song, about the moment depicted on the album cover, where Harry chooses to die for his friends. “The Wand” is about Harry’s ultimate triumph, Harry’s side of that final showdown against Voldemort. It’s a nutshell-sized version of what Harry and the Potters does; the unexpected, the insightful, in songs that compel you to dance, linger with you.

Wizard rock is, frankly, not for everyone; it’s a very DIY, inescapably nerdy genre, all about how we feel about boy wizards. But in Lumos, Harry and the Potters prove why wizard rock flourished into a real genre in their wake, what makes it meaningful to those who enjoyed it. Their years of touring and celebrating a wizarding world have refined their sound and their message is more timely than ever. I thought listening to this album would take me back to 2007, to my childhood; I also expected to have vaguely ambivalent or complicated feelings about it, the same way many did when Deathly Hallows came out, and the same way I do now about the Harry Potter franchise (see: my review of The Crimes of Grindelwald).

The real genius of this album is how easily it engages with the text of a book published in 2007 and makes it feel relevant to where we are now in 2019. Out of all the things in 2019 that are trying to keep Harry Potter alive and well in our hearts–the latest additions to the Universal Studios theme park, JK Rowling, the latest app Wizards Unite–this is the one that has truly worked magic on me.

Harry and the Potters are touring at numerous venues and public libraries this summer; check their website for tour dates near you. Both the band and I will be at Leakycon in Dallas this August, so I hope I see you there!

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