Headlights? Nah, iPhones don't even have a flash.
Headlights are a four-piece band from Champaign, Illinois, with guitars, keyboard, bass, drums, and both male and female vocals. Ordinarily I would say an "indie pop" band, for whatever that phrase is worth anymore, but I'm worried I've been misrepresenting them. Can we still say "dream pop," or is that phrase meaningless by now, too? Because Headlights' sound, especially live, is a lot more textured and hypnotic than the type of cute directness that "indie pop" probably connotes most of the time. Anyway, enough about sub-genres. They've never really been my thing. I'm no good at them!
"Cherry Tulips" was the song that stood out for me from Headlights' 2008 album, Some Racing, Some Stopping. I wrote one of those bummers of reviews, where you basically like the record but you realize you can't remember that many of the songs, and you don't wanna strongly recommend something to people if you apparently don't like it enough to remember many of the songs, so instead you go for faint praise. I listened a couple of times to their latest, Wildlife, but I had a similar kind of feeling about it and didn't want to pitch them again to say only semi-nice things when maybe somebody else would be nicer-- I liked the overall vibe, though (busting out every over-used word here today, sorry). After Tuesday night's show at the Vaudeville Mews, however, I realize the reason I didn't remember the songs wasn't because they weren't memorable; it's because they were more about prettiness and atmosphere than I was realizing, sort of like how people sometimes ask what's the big deal about Atlas Sound-- the lyrics are so repetitive, the tunes so simple, whatever-- and you just want to grab them and make them see how pretty everything is, his voice, the choice of instruments, the delay-pedal mind games. "Pretty" isn't a word that carries much weight, but it's a nice sound to have rushing across you from the stage, with those Spector-sweet melodies that made me mentally categorize Headlights as indie-pop but also the polished tightness (this on the first night of their tour!) of a skilled rock band and the atmospheric effects of other, more pretentious bands nowhere near as fun as these dudes.
The vocal duties are more evenly divided than I remembered, with moments of three-part harmony between keyboard player Erin Fein, guitarist Tristan Wraight, and bassist Nick Sanborn. I also had forgotten Sanborn's involvement-- he's a member of Polyvinyl labelmates Decibully, a Milwaukee band I have liked since before first seeing them at Chicago's Schubas in, like, January 2003 (I was also digging on related bands Camden, who were sort of emo-rock parallel to-- but artier and probably more British-inspired than-- Death Cab for Cutie, and New Sense, an underrated synth-pop combo... really need to get out those CDs again). I see now Headlights have billed themselves as "Indie Rock for People Who Love Pop", and that's really more on the mark than you might think; they filter well-played catchiness through the slightly abstract distance that artists like Deerhunter or Cass McCombs, say, might bring to Everly Brothers or Roy Orbison stylings. And when you do notice the lyrics behind the mesmerizing guitar repetitions, you stumble across everyday torments and grand concepts, presented with quietly devastating minimalism. Ooooh oooh oooh.
They played "Cherry Tulips". And, despite worries about running past their early set's 9 p.m. ending time, they played a few more, too. I may still not remember that many of the songs until I revisit the CDs again, but now I know why. I was impressed, pleased, and humbled, and I had a good time. This was Headlights' third show in Des Moines, I'm told, and I hope they'll come back-- it's probably also a good sign that the quality bands I've seen make return trips here always seem to keep attracting larger and larger audiences with each visit.
I missed Hanwell because of dinner-- I'll be seeing them again at their CD release party March 13-- but opener Canby was also a nice surprise. I didn't realize that was the Envy Corps' Scott Yoshimura, playing some of the songs I saw him do at Dogtown Fest in Des Moines' Drake area this summer, when he was calling the project Menlo. That time Yoshimura had a band, but the other night he was just solo with a guitar. The super-sincere "With the World on a Stick" caught my ear at Dogtown Fest, as a lovely folk-pop ballad that could appeal to fans of anything from Bright Eyes' I'm Wide Awake It's Morning to Jose Gonzalez, and it struck me as a highlight again at the Vaudeville Mews. "I'm like every other guy who can play the guitar," Yoshimura acknowleges. "I'll write a song for you, even if it's no good/ 'Cause for once I know what I'm doing." If you can't relate to that, you're probably over-confident. Or I guess maybe you just don't write songs for people on the guitar. But anyway, good local music.
One for the Team: good at the Vaud lately, too.
Coming up: Poison Control Center at Vaudeville Mews Feb. 26, Cloud Cult at Grinnell Feb. 27, Charlie Hunter at Vaudeville Mews Feb. 28, A Sunny Day in Glasgow w/ Wolves in the Attic at Vaudeville Mews March 4, Heligoats at Vaudeville Mews March 5, We All Have Hooks for Hands w/ One for the Team at Vaudeville Mews March 8, Vivian Girls at Grinnell March 13, Hanwell's EP release show with Patrick Fleming and Ely Falls at Vaudeville Mews also March 13 (so I won't be at Vivian Girls, this means... but just FYI!), the fifth annual Gross Domestic Product at All Play March 27, Red Pony Clock w/ Zoos of Berlin and Child Bite at Vaudeville Mews March 28 (awesome poster btw, guys!), Electric Six at Vaudeville Mews March 31, Love Is All at Vaudeville Mews April 8, the Morning Benders at Vaudeville Mews April 9, Dum Dum Girls at Vaudeville Mews April 12 (not 11 as I previously posted), Poison Control Center's Record Release Party at Vaudeville Mews April 30, Brother Ali at Vaudeville Mews May 2, MONO and the Twilight Sad at Vaudeville Mews May 18