Album Review: Headlights – Wildlife

Wildlife, Headlights‘ fifth record, comes with some heavy baggage. For a band hell bent on creating pleasantly perfect pop, the new album arrives in vein. During the recording the band expanded, contracted, and scrapped things all together at one point, leaving them in the dirt. Despite all that, they still managed to turn things around, and pull the material together. Sticking with the home recording style of their previous record, 2008’s Some Racing, Some Stopping, Wildlife is its moody sibling, and by far their darkest album to date. With so many emotions being poured into the making of this release, it only makes sense that things got real.

More personal yes, we also get a chance to see the band fleshing out its identity a little further. Having two lead singers has put them in a unique position by being able to capture two different takes of indie rock on the same record. Wildlife takes that dynamic a step further, giving us two different but cohesive personalities for the band. Whether it be Erin Fein’s charming keys and soft yet deceiving voice, or Tristan Wraight’s catchy rock strum-a-longs, the lines between the two have become more defined.

Production this time around feels a bit scaled back. This has created a lo key record that takes cues from their earlier work, but without undercutting the progress they’ve made stylistically. After the shine of Some Racing, Some Stopping, the mellow hum of opener “Telephones” feels warmer, more natural. In turn you get a nice consistency for the record.

Some new sounds have made their way into the bands repertoire, too. Aside from detail work via accordions and faint banjos, the guitars are stronger, and have picked up a new twang — all prone to heavy distorted release. Early in the record, “Secrets” is a real gem, with Fein’s organ providing floating background to the reverb-drenched surf rock guitars. You get the feeling that her vocals are scaled back, but it just makes the song more honest. If things were as polished as before, the themes on the record wouldn’t seem as real when she sings, “Tell me about the time you were going to hospital twice a week” or “We are all going to die tomorrow, don’t you want to say goodbye” on “Love Song for Buddy”.

The sonic escapism of “I Don’t Mind At All”, and the echoes and piano of the duet “Dead End”, throw ambition all over this record. The writing has stepped up, and songs that could be just standard like “Get Going” pick up a new dimension with the new found guitar sounds. Case in point, “Wisconsin Beaches” turns what could be a simple acoustic sleeper into a layered Feist-inspired dream.

The last portion of the record sees more duets that throw both styles together for those slower but still bright pop moments. It’s a great way to wrap everything up in the nice little ironic package. The songs are pleasant but biting numbers like “Teenage Wonders” and the aptly titled “Slow Down Town”, all string together with a hint of nostalgia in the story line.

While the slower ending tunes might put you to sleep, the meat of the record is solid, genuine pop music that doesn’t over play the some old tricks. The band is still trying to find themselves, but they’ve gotten much closer this time around. It seems they’re learning not to fight the differences, but embrace them, and have ended up with a record that’s perfectly them. Wildlife is the light at the end of the tunnel for this band, let’s just hope they see it that way.

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