Headlights’ third record often sounds like what I imagine a womb would sound like. (This is weird, I know, but it is going someplace quickly, I swear.) Imagine floating in a comforting space defined only in blurry, obscured semi-transparencies, with sounds and ideas flashing by your still forming brain in a kind of warm, pink haze. You try to hang your tiny hat on something, but it’s gone before you can decide what to name it, enveloped in a wash of primordial fuzz and distortion. The record, largely, works in this mode, lobbing ideas through a layer of shoe-gazy gauze, then retreating into abstraction. Overall, it is a comforting sound, although the lyrical content plumbs darker waters. “Love Song for Buddy” opens with the creepy gem “we’re all gonna die tomorrow,” delivered by Erin Fein in her deeply treacly vocal style. Stuff like this is all over the record, little lyrical flourishes referencing death and/or loneliness that come out of the speakers sounding covered in sugar. (My favorite comes from “Dead Ends”: “No one’s got your back, not even your friends.” Harsh.) It’s an interesting and tension-filled dichotomy, this combination of womb-like security and doom and gloom lyricism. In large part, it’s this tension that makes the record compelling and worth listening to.
“Wisconsin Beaches” is a highlight, opening with a mellow acoustic guitar line that is slowly enveloped in the wash of noise that punctuates much of the record. There are times throughout the record when the vocals can be a tad grating, slightly over manipulated or too polished. (Kind of like a gem that is too bright to look at in fluorescent light. Or an eclipse.) On “Wisconsin Beaches,” however, the harmonies spun by Fein and Tristan Wraight are legitimately beautiful. “Wisconsin Beaches” offers the best slab of the mellower side of Wildlife. For tracks that pack a bit more wallop, it’s tough to do better than the album’s opener, “Telephones.” It’s pervasive and hooky and is the song that I’ll be going back to the most over the next few months. Headlights aren’t afraid to take their time, a quality highlit by the nearly minute long intro on “Telephones.” They’ve written some solid tunes and they give them space to breathe all across the record. There’s a slow burning quality to many of the songs that is enhanced by this approach.
In general, Wildlife is a solid chunk of slightly-poppy, vaguely psychedelic mood rock. If you want to get in touch with the feelings you had before you stepped on the planet, it’s as good a place as any to go looking.
Headlights – Get Going
Snag Headlights at insound.
(Editor’s note: We’ve got some Vault content today to get you through to the weekend. Word.) I had a weird conversation at a bar the other day. I was out and there was a DJ playing a moderately awful mix of contemporary rap music. Nothing actively bad, mind you, just a bland batch of stuff that you couldn’t really separate from itself. Mildly inebriated, I wandered over and asked the dude to turn the levels down (there were like four people in the bar, I wanted to chat with my buddies and he had the speakers on 11) and to hit us with some Tribe Called Quest to keep everybody mellow. He obliged on the volume, but couldn’t turn up any Tribe tracks. I was stunned. Dude had a computer. That means you can bring an infinite number of tracks with you, right? There’s no practical limit on the number of tunes you can put on a portable hard drive, right? But. No Tribe. Nothing from The Low End Theory. I really wanted to hear “Verses from the Abstract,” but the dude could not accommodate that wish. (It’s got that killer Ron Carter bassline and one of the all-time great rhymes: “If I don’t pursue, then I just don’t give a fuck, my motto in the nineties is be happy making ducks. “) Stunned that the DJ didn’t have the song I wanted to hear, I launched into a several minute long tirade on the unabashed brilliance of The Low End Theory. I even told him that it’s in my top five. Not rap records, just records. This might be overstating the case, but think about it:
1. The Low End Theory has two of my all-time favorite rap singles: “Check the Rime” and “Scenario.”
1a. The songs that weren’t singles are top shelf as well. It’s a murderer’s row of highly re-listenable rap songs: “Excursions,” “Butter,” “Skypager” and the aforementioned “Verses from the Abstract”stand with their heads above the crowd, but there’s not a clunker on the record.
2. Q-Tip was at the absolute peak of his powers.
3. The beats are damn near incomparable.
4. It is cool (or was cool in the nineties) to like A Tribe Called Quest.
5. If you’re doing the High Fidelity desert island top-five thing, you look like a brute if you don’t take one rap record. And. You’d want to have something on your desert island for when the ladies showed up. Dark Side of the Moon is in my top-five as well (at the moment), but you can’t really throw it on the coconut turntable when Ginger is feeling a little randy. Just saying.
6. A Tribe Called Quest pushed rap music as a socially conscious and artistically relevant form. There’s that line at the beginning of Things Fall Apart about hip-hop music rarely being maximized as product, let alone art; the Tribe was flying in the face of that notion in 1991. The Low End Theory is a unified artistic vision, in much the same sense that early Public Enemy records are. The difference, maybe, is that The Low End Theory works in such a deep groove. It’s smart and crisp, but it sounds cool as hell. I love Chuck D, but I want to hang out with Phife.
So. To all the mediocre DJs playing mediocre sets in small bars in America’s cities: put The Low End Theory in your milk crate of records and/or inexhaustible hard drive. It will make people happy.
A Tribe Called Quest – Check the Rime – Live on MTV