The lineup is as straight-forward as their music. Erin Fein on vocals and keyboards, Brett Sanderson on drums, and Tristan Wraight on vocals, guitar, and bass, rounded out by Nick Sanborn and John Owen. Headlights chose to eschew much of the spacey atmospherics of their much loved full-length debut, Kill Them With Kindness, to focus on a more classic pop sensibility for Some Racing, Some Stopping. Both of their albums are on Polyvinyl Records, and with label mates like Of Montreal, Architecture In Helsinki, and Mates Of State Polyvinyl seems like a perfect home for them.
What makes this album so good and so effective is what it doesn’t do as much as what it does. With the vast array of available gadgetry and the wonders of ProTools, it can be more tempting for musicians to keep adding layers, ostensibly to make it even better, and lose track of the essence of their music. One of the things that allows this record to shine is its profound simplicity. Nothing is overdone, so every little thing that's included matters. The whole thing clocks in at 33 minutes and leaves you wanting more.
Something in the music here from start to finish makes me nostalgic and a little sad. There's a purity about it, not just in terms of the pop music elements or the understated quality of the singing and playing; there's also an emotional purity. There is an honesty that's disarming about the whole thing, from the song-writing to every detail of the arrangements and delivery. It seems to me a very daring move in this day and age, to distinctly not be jaded about music. There is angst and melancholy, but without wallowing and bitterness, and lots of what can only be called joy and a sense of celebration. I like my sneering, angry, growling, menacing rock and layers of chaotic noise as much as the next sad bastard. I need it. But there’s something here that knocks me on my ass emotionally in a way that other more visceral music doesn’t. The restraint and profound simplicity of this music is potent and powerful in its deceptively understated tonal and emotional language.
When Fein and Wraight sing together as they do on the wistfully charming last track, January, the sound rivals Elliott Smith and Rebecca Gates singing St. Ides Heaven in its heart-breaking loveliness. On the seventh track, So Much For The Afternoon, Fein’s vocals are not unlike the sounds of Julee Cruise, only less doomed and more hopeful. Cherry Tulips has some Angelo Badalamenti-inspired guitar sounds that one can imagine Laura Palmer and Donna Hayward bopping around to.
The balance of instruments and vocals seems always right, neither interfering with the other. In an earlier era they might have been on K Records. It's refreshing to hear a band who don’t seem to be trying to be anyone or anything except themselves.