Music Blogs - Blogged Blog Directory Add to Technorati Favorites

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Headlights: "Some Racing, Some Stopping"

In 2006, I opened my mailbox to find a bubblewrap-lined envelope with my name written on it.  Who doesn't love coming home to that?  I excitedly tore open the brown mailer to find what would soon become one of my favorite albums of that year; Headlights' debut LP, Kill Them With Kindness.  It was such a fantastic piece of indie rock, flawless from start to finish, and never letting the 14-song tracklist get the better of them.  If there was any complaint to be found against the album, it was that it lacked focus.  Some songs would be bombastic California rock jams, others meek, reflective indie rock ballads.  This certainly didn't take away from the greatness of the songs themselves, but it was a feature that some took issue with.  For their second album, Some Racing, Some Stopping, Headlights has tightened their focus; creating 30+ minutes of dreamy, whistful indie pop.  But does this change of style and pace benefit the band the way one would hope?  Keep reading.

Album opener, "Get Yer Head Around It," starts with a pleasant, innocuous guitar riff that runs into Tristan Wraight's equally inoffensive vocals.  The one-line hook of, "In silence we'll both walk away," is beautifully presented, softly sung over the surrounding instrumentation.  In typical Headlights fashion, the song picks up soon enough and finds Tristan and Erin Fein trading off "bas" and "oohs" in a very Mates of State-ish manner.  It's a gorgeous song that doesn't try to do too much.  The next song and first single, "Cherry Tulips,"  is a dreamy, airy indie pop song that is so reminiscent of Rilo Kiley's The Execution of All Things album, that I found myself wanting to go and listen to it as soon as this song wrapped up.  Fein sings of a sea of Cherry Tulips, confessing, "I want the sea, I want the whole sea for you and me," as haunting vocals echo her words in the background.  

"Market Girl" is my personal favorite track on the album, due, in part, to the fact that the opening guitar line is so contagious and danceable.  It is indie pop at its most flawless and entertaining.  Tristan takes over on vocals again here, spitting out verses like a tommy-gun spits out bullets (fast),but Erin backs him up gently.  I've listened to this song at least a dozen times now, and I still can't get enough of it.

"On April 2" is the album's first misstep, finding Fein singing an unaffecting vocal melody over an unrefined and muddled composition of organs, guitars, and drums.  To be sure, this is the first time that Headlights has ever really done such a thing, as every other song of theirs that I know of is at least somewhat catchy.  This one just seems to fall short on so many levels.  It's short though, so you won't have to put up for it for too long.  "School Boys" is a softer, more reflective song that once again finds Fein and Wraight trading vocals.  Tristan take the lead, while Erin provides some very well-placed "do do dos."  The ending of the song finds trumpets and strings harmonizing with one another, adding a small but terrific touch to this simple, yet admirable song.

Title track, "Some Racing, Some Stopping" is equally as simple and impressive, featuring minimal instrumentation and a distinctive lo-fi sound.  Fein sings softly over a rhodes organ, "If you could hold, hold, hold your heart in your hand would no one demand to know how you're feeling cause you've shown them already?" later adding, "With your heart on your sleeve, there's no secrets you can keep anymore."  It's a very touching song, and one that is made better by the fact that it's so low-key and calming.  "So Much for the Afternoon" is a strange song to say the least.  Featuring no real vocals other than Erin's airy "oohs" and "aahs," -- which, frankly, we've already heard enough of by this point -- it fails to capture the attention of the listener.  By the time she actually starts singing actual words, there's so much reverb on them that it hard to distinguish what she's actually saying.  It is another unfortunate, skippable track.

"Catch Them All" is, in fact, not the theme song to Pokemon, but how cool would that have been?  Despite that fact, this is one of Some Racing, Some Stopping's better tracks that once again picks up the tempo in a way that fans of Headlights are more accustomed to hearing.  It's got a very bouncy, guitar pop feel to it, and it's perfectly executed by the band.  "Towers" brings back the organ to complement a very playful, Erin-sung melody.  She sings, "Whisper like a summer breeze, all the secrets secrets keep," with an innocent tone.  As usual, things eventually build, adding in more assertive drums, and strings all the way to the song's abrupt end.  The album ends with "January," a solemn, comedown track.  Wraight does vocals here, which is good because his voice is more suited to this type of song.  Xylophones, steady guitar strums, and what I believe is the faint sound of a harmonium really carry this song and make it more poignant that it should be.  Wraight is able to slip out a tired line like, "Time just marches on," on more than one occasion, but everything is so perfectly orchestrated that it's difficult to not let it come in and affect you.

In the end, Some Racing, Some Stopping, is not as flawless as its predecessor.  It's biggest drawback is its lack of immediate appeal.  It took me a few listens to get used to the band's new style and sound, and even more for me to appreciate it as it deserved to be.  But after all those listens, I can't help but be pleased with my experience with Headlights' new album.  While it does have a few low points, the majority of Some Racing, Some Stopping is a beautiful, though not entirely unique, piece of indie pop that is sure to be playing in my stereo well into 2008.  I highly recommend this album to everyone that liked Kill Them With Kindness (especially the tracks, "Signs Point to Yes (But Outlook Not So Good)," and "Pity City").  It may take a few listens to get your head around it, but it will be worth it.

Key Tracks:
1. "Get Yer Head Around It"
2. "Cherry Tulips"
3. "Market Girl"
4. "Some Racing, Some Stopping"
5. "January"

7 out of 10 Stars

No comments: