[CD Review] Headlights, 'Remixes' (Polyvinyl)

Full disclosure here: I’m not a big fan of Headlights. The Illinois band always seem to take too long to get to where they’re going, and where they’re going never appeals to me much anyway. With that said, it’s a wonder what a good remix can do. In the hands of tinkering musicians—obscure and well-known—this collection sheds promising new light on entries from 2005’s The Enemies EP, 2006’s Kill Them With Kindness and this year’s Some Racing, Some Stopping.

On their own, Headlights’ songs too often rely on plodding indie-pop instrumentation (guitar, bass, drums, keys) and either swelling strings or a resigned kick of distortion in place of a true climax. Freed from those terrestrial restraints, however, singer/keyboardist Erin Fein’s pillowy vocals and the band’s orchestral leanings are easily re-purposed for rain-slick, reflective electro-pop. Picture the difference between Death Cab for Cutie and the Postal Service, and you’re on the right track.

The opening one-two of TJ Tipple’s “Cherry Lips” and the Buddy System’s “Owl Eyes” could almost be outtakes from Phil Spector’s A Christmas Gift for You box set, all wintry wall-of-sound heaven and girl-group cheer. The Album Leaf predictably take “Market Girl”—sung by Tristan Wraight—to squishier electronic terrain, and label mate Cale Parks (of Aloha) wisely pushes the light vocals of “School Boys” further into the background, splashing bright tones across its insistent beat. Owen Ashworth sings on his own Casiotone for the Painfully Alone remix of the mostly instrumental “So Much for the Afternoon,” spiking it nicely with his drowsy, hang-dog charisma.

Maybe I’m being too hard on Headlights, or maybe any musical components can be made great in the right hands. Either way, Remixes is an unexpected winner.

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