What does it take to be deemed truly original? Is it fair to say that true originality is an almost impossible quality…? After all, everything that exists must in some way be influenced by what has come before; musically this is certainly so – even if what does emerge is a reaction against something prior. But whoa! This isn’t some poorly conceived essay on the nature of innovation, no – it’s a segue to introducing the new Headlights album – a band who don’t figure particularly high on the unique-o-meter, but haven’t let that stop them turn in an utterly delightful second effort.
Opener ‘Get Your Head Around It' arrives on a crest of chiming, understated electric guitar, and (despite the unnerving similarities between singer Tristan Wraight’s delivery and that of a certain Ben Gibbard’s) is entirely agreeable, marching drums, interweaving glockenspiel lines and all. Things get even better on the following 'Cherry Tulips' when Erin Fein takes her turn at the mic – a wistful little number that comes over very much a less morose Azure Ray, Fein’s vocals pure and honey-sweet.
Although this album is peppered with others’ influence (Death Cab and The Shins loom large; the closing 'January' features a lead melody straight out of Micah P. Hinson’s 'The Dreams You Left Behind', strongly recalling early Elliott Smith in its scratchy acoustic feel), it isn’t without its own considerable allure – equal parts evocative and charming. Nostalgia reigns omnipotent – “I remember I was five / Sitting watching fire in the sky”, “Time just marches on…”. Even in the instrumentation – the plentiful soft strings and bells, the reverb-drenched guitar of 'School Boys' or Phil Spector sweep that buoys 'On April 2'. Recorded when the band moved into Wraight’s farmhouse over Spring 2007 in Illinois, the unhurried, organic atmosphere relayed certainly reflects a relaxed gestation.
The title track itself is something of a departure from the rest of the album. Pushing four minutes in length it’s the longest thing here (which weighs in as a whole at a compact 32 minutes), Fein’s mellifluous vocal taking centre stage, adorned with gentle percussion and twinkling keys – reminiscent of Broken Social Scene’s 'Anthems For A Seventeen-Year-Old Girl' but wholly wonderful nonetheless. “With your heart on your sleeve / There’s no secrets you can keep” intones Fein: a statement that could very well apply to Headlights themselves.
Here they’ve created an effective celebration of some of the finest gentle guitar-slinging acts of the last decade, and the countless aforementioned inform proceedings throughout. It is ceaselessly pretty, breezy and undemanding (in the best possible way), boding extremely well for future material. And if we’re talking influences, well; what does it take to be deemed truly original? Is it fair to say that true originality is an almost impossible qual – whoop, hold up! Do investigate if any of those cited appeal, as this undoubtedly will too. Splendid.
7James Skinner's Score