Beyond Race Magazine
Illinois indie rock band Headlights continue to please with dreamy-pop tunes on their latest album, Wildlife, via Polyvinyl Records.
Their third record, despite the usual handful of upbeat and catchy melodies, also shows the band’s ability to slow down elegantly without sacrificing the natural momentum or lively appeal of their music as a whole.
Many tracks shimmer contagiously with fun synthy spots and smoothly rolling drumbeats, much like their previous album, Some Racing, Some Stopping. They’ve mastered the art of crafting peppy gems, like Wildlife’s opener “Telephones,” a track that builds up its punch and becomes a full-fledged head-bobber by the chorus, or midway through the record on “Get Going,” where crunching guitar work intermingles with a warm and hazy danceable backdrop. Headlights rock a lot like Mates of State, French Kicks or the Pomegranates, offering not only consistently good music, but an overall fun experience.
But they haven’t caved in and marked themselves as “predictable” just yet. Instead, Wildlife shows the band tip-toeing into somewhat unchartered territory. Vocalists Tristan Wraight and Erin Fein exact patience and poignance on sparse, balladesque tracks, such as “Wisconsin Beaches,” where Fein in particular takes the spotlight, singing wistfully and tenderly alongside gentle acoustic guitar pickings. Her airy, beautifully somber vocals are seen again on “You and Eye,” where she says with sad resignation, “No, it wasn’t the same at all, it wasn’t the same at all.” Wraight at his best and most serene sounds a lot like Ben Gibbard’s whispery self in The Postal Service.
The more morose, slow and serious tracks might stem from the fact that the band faced some trouble when first recording the album. At one point Headlights welcomed two new members to the group, but the chemistry just wasn’t there and one of them ended up leaving. The band had to scrap all the music they had created up to that point. They admit to having been “so distracted by the issues going on internally,” but to be honest, Wildlife thrives on its blend of moods and paces. The record, as a symbol of growth and variety, is definitely another successful venture for Headlights. -Michelle Geslani
SRSS is one of eMusic’s best records of 2008
December 7, 2008
Here’s how it opens: with a steady humming organ, a twinkle of guitars and — shooting upward from the darkness — a soaring, pleading vocal. It’s dramatic and it’s perfect, the kind of introit bigger bands break their backs trying to create. The second record from Illinois trio Headlights is full of casual beauty, moments of pop elegance that arrive with natural grace rather than with blunt force and blaring fanfare. …View Full Article
Pop Matters gives SRSS 8/10
February 22, 2008
With Some Racing, Some Stopping, the Champaign, Illinois trio Headlights steps away from the indie rock of its previous two efforts and jumps headlong into… indie pop territory. Gone are Tristan Wraight’s crunchy guitar chords and Erin Fein’s art song proclivities. In their place are eleven atmospheric tracks that flirt with classic pop, dream pop, girl group stylings, psychedelia and even bubblegum. Unlike the band’s previous two efforts, the Enemies EP and the 2006 CD Kill Them with Kindness, this disc isn’t something you’ll want to play loud. Instead, you’ll want to play it endlessly because the songs are first-rate, the songs are wonderful and…did we mention how good these new songs are? Even when it gets spacey, the songs on Some Racing, Some Stopping have hooks so catching that if they were a disease, well, I for one would be dying 1,000 deaths. Somewhere along the line composers Wraight and Fein figured out how to craft arrangements that brought out the best in their fragile melodies—and vice versa. From start to finish, there’s hardly a dull spot in the lineup. The biggest problem, in fact, is that there’s only 33 minutes of music, so every time you play the disc you’re left wanting more (hence the above comment about putting the CD on repeat play). There are shades of Rilo Kiley and Rooney, and even Wraight and Fein’s old band Absinthe Blind. But Headlights is starting to define its own sound this time around. The opener, “Get Your Head Around It”, sets the tone for the album. Wraight’s light electric guitar plucking and boyish vocals mix with Fein’s bells to form a dreamlike sound space, after which Brett Saunderson’s drums come marching in to lend some groove to the proceedings. “Cherry Tulips”, the single, is pure pop candy, an upbeat dance track that has Fein’s multitracked vocals running circles around each other in its chorus. “Market Girl” finds Wraight complaining about some of life’s little ups and downs, but his lyric is juxtaposed with one of his most exquisite melodies, making the song either an ode to survival or sadness, depending on your mood. Sleigh bells and a glockenspiel reference 1960s music, as does the Mersey Beat drumming in the following number, “April 2”. Both tracks underscore Headlights’ unique knack for being able to play music that rocks but still sounds light on its feet. Similarly, Headlights can evoke sounds of yesteryear and also sound up to date, thanks to their smart arrangements and production (the band self-produced the disc at home; Saunderson served as engineer). The title track is a slow, mournful Fein ballad that uses the metaphor of beating hearts to bemoan people’s lack of communication. It’s probably an intentional metaphor that her voice is run through a filter here, because even while the spare arrangement leaves lots of room for her singing, it still sounds like she’s struggling to communicate. The following track, “So Much for the Afternoon”, conjures an entire world using scant instrumentation except some keyboards and Fein’s multi-tracked “ooohs” and “aaahs”, which carry the melody line. An arpeggiated guitar line gives “School Boys” a majestic introduction before it moves into a zippy dance groove. Wraight’s lyric consists of a bunch of enigmatic lines (“silence all the way home”); it’s up to the listener to piece together what he’s trying to say. The closer, “January”, finds Wraight ruminating about the passage of time to the accompaniment of little more than his acoustic guitar and some percussion. Yet by the tune’s end, you start to notice keyboards and electric guitar creeping in, marinating the tune in some melancholy counter-melodies. The problem with writing about Some Racing, Some Stopping is that the songs seem to float by on gossamer wings, as they say, and it almost feels describing them too intricately would strip away their magic. Some Racing, Some Stopping has the ability to lull you into a dream-like trance, but still keep you tapping your foot all the while. How many records can you say that about? …View Full Article
Paste give Some Racing, Some Stopping 4 stars
February 8, 2008
From end to end, and without a weak moment, Headlights’ second full-length inspires awe at how deftly the band employs bells, organ swells, orchestral flourishes and stacked, co-ed “oohs” and “aahs” for instant indie-pop bliss. Occupying territory well marked by both predecessors (Lush, Stereolab) and contemporaries (Stars, Asobi Seksu), Some Racing, Some Stopping’s 10 tracks nonetheless stand out via good taste and attention to detail. Lyrical sentiments are appropriately soft-focused and impressionistic (“Water towers / Summer showers / Go for hours / Staring out the window”) and vocalists Tristan Wraight and Erin Fein don’t stint on the wistful melancholy in their respective, oft-intertwined deliveries. Winter-survival soundtracks don’t come much better than this.
Spin reviews Kill Them With Kindness: Hi-Ya!
August 2, 2006
Headlight’s dynamic first full-length, Kill Them With Kindness, is slated for an August 22 release, and we’ve scored one of the most infectious and optimistic tracks from it. …View Full Article
AbsolutePunk reviews Kill Them With Kindness
August 1, 2006
Polyvinyl could take a shit and there’d be no shortage of skinny people with bad haircuts in line waiting to dub it an, “indie classic”. That’s not to say that kind of blind acclaim isn’t warranted. The Illinois based label doesn’t just run out and sign any band off the street with a four-track demo and a dream. Instead, they go out and find bands that have put out records for years under various indie labels that hipster critics are already madly in love with. Headlights are one of the latest to ascend to the compassed throne. …View Full Article
You Ain’t No Picasso reviews Kill Them With Kindness: Put Us Back Together
May 31, 2006
“Put Us Back Together” is simultaniously relaxing and beautiful, and energetic and charging. It’s this kind of duality that makes me thankful that good music still gets made. …View Full Article
Good Hodgkins Reviews Kill Them with Kindness
May 26, 2006
This is a band that feels comfortable in their own skin, and its perhaps this quality, above all else, that allows us to feel comfortable in ours; it’s this quality that gets us singing along to to lines like “sun shines on summertime, but your friend, he’s no friend of mine”; and it’s this quality that makes Kindness one of the year’s most intriguing and memorable debuts.
Delisions of Adequacy Reviews The Enemies EP
May 20, 2006
This one starts quiet. Turn it up. Keep going, as that mechanized fuzz and hum starts up, because then the wash of layered guitar and lap steel hits, and it’s loud and lush and so gorgeous. This is the introduction you gain to Headlights, perhaps my new favorite band. …View Full Article
Pop Matters Reviews The Enemies EP
April 20, 2006
Falling somewhere between My Bloody Valentine and Rainer Maria, Headlights play black velvet curtained indie rock to shimmering perfection. …View Full Article
Drowned in Sound Reviews The Enemies EP
March 18, 2006
The Illinois three piece’s debut record echoes long lost shoegazing magic and chug-tug Buffalo Tom alt power pop circa Big Red Letter Day. …View Full Article