Headlights once emerged as a spunky dream-pop combo, rich in energy and guitar effects, alternating between Velocity Girl-style sugar-gaze and new wave anthems. But in the past four years, the group has undergone a growth and maturity that has seen them largely shedding their spunk and saccharine glaze for a more mature, atmospheric pop sound. By the time they released their second album Some Racing, Some Stopping, the group had become far more interested in ballads and slow burners than peppy pop confections, save for the occasional single such as “Cherry Tulips.” In the past year, however, a series of unfortunate circumstances stacked up in advance of their third album’s release. Tensions began to grow between members, a newly-joined guitar player split before the album was finished, recordings were scrapped, loved ones passed away—to expect something resembling the bubblegum highs of Kill Them With Kindness seemed out of the question at this point.
Indeed, the Illinois quartet’s third album is short on firecracker energy and syrupy hooks. Yet what it lacks in immediacy it more than makes up for with its gorgeous, gauzy layers and wonderful melodies. Cliche as it may sound, Wildlife is an album that reveals the level of maturity Headlights has achieved as a band, showing off the expansion of their creativity while proving that sometimes a sprint isn’t always the best way to reach an end. The soft and dreamy “Telephones” sets the tone for the ten tracks that follow, churning slowly, twinkling, shimmering, with the melancholy chill resonating from each narrator’s difficulties in communication.
An upbeat highlight emerges quickly with “Secrets,” a gorgeous, hand-clapping track that’s as strong a song as the band has ever written. Erin Fein is breathy and direct, her coos growing ever more beautiful during the song’s energetic chorus. Yet that racing pulse is short lived, as the ambient “You and Eye” and slowly plodding “Love Song For Buddy” follow. Yet Headlights do pull out a certified rocker on the shoegaze gem “I Don’t Mind At All.”
Headlights seem a bit more distant, a bit lonelier and vulnerable on Wildlife. Yet their songwriting remains warm and inviting, not to mention quite lovely. The instant thrills come in shorter spurts this time around, but Wildlife‘s rewards are nonetheless plentiful and long lasting.
MP3: “Get Going”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.