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  The Enemies EP  
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Headlights are a band from Champaign Illinois who, in late 2004, released The Enemies EP on Polyvinyl Records. It was an EP I picked up on a whim. I enjoyed it, but it fell to the side as newer material came in. Then, nearly a year later, I caught this band in concert, and was completely impressed, so I was forced to go back and re-examine this EP from a critical perspective.

The Enemies EP begins with Tokyo, a lush loud soundscape that alternates soaring, effected instruments with the minimal vocals of guitarist Tristan Wraight and keyboardist Erin Fein. Wraight's vocals are light and delicate for a man, but they work well in this context, especially as they don't overwhelm Fein's more fragile sound. On this song this means that the verses have a beautiful, almost wistful quality that contrasts heavily with Wraight's harder, almost flat declaration of "Another broken heart" on the chorus. Yet, as the song ends, it builds further into the stratosphere with more imaginary sounds (courtesy of effects pedals) that build a melodic repetition. Tokyo is an unexpectedly good opener, which suggests the skill of these musicians.

Afterwards, the EP moves into Centuries, which has a faster-paced, more driving sound, courtesy of the drumming. Again, Wraight's and Fein's voices mingle, although here the emphasis appears more on Fein's voice. This contrast between the harder drums and the more gentle vocal lines is a bit expected, as it would be too easy for Fein to belt out the lyrics, ala Neko Case, and let the music fall where it may. Instead, Headlights bring it down, allowing the listener to appreciate the voice as another distinct instrument.

The third song, Everybody Needs a Fence To Lean On, begins with Fein's voice alone. She sounds slight and mournful, as occasional instrumental touches begin to fill the backing silence. Like so much of this band's music, the combination is very beautiful and, on this song, almost cold and isolated. After the intro, Wraight comes in quickly on top of a soft, jangly pop tune. Then, surprisingly, the music becomes hard and more distorted, before falling back into the original melody. If you follow this description, you may be able to conclude that there is a lot on contrast and catharsis going on in Headlights' music. And this would be a true observation. Throughout the EP, no song keeps one tone from the beginning to the end; nevertheless, none of the changes are jarring, but rather seem to move and blend seamlessly. In fact, the last minute or so of this song falls back to the echoing minimalism of sound effects which reiterates the bleakness and coldness of the beginning.

The EP ends with It Isn't Easy to Live That Well. Again it begins with Fein's vocals. This song is more immediately poppy, and is more in the vein of Centuries as opposed to the other two songs on the EP. In some ways, this one reminds me of a more forceful and less ethereal Azure Ray. It is a pleasant enough ending, but this song doesn't stand up to the chilly brilliance of the previous song, or even the unexpected waves of sound in Tokyo. However, if this is the worst thing Headlights ever records, then they will be doing very well indeed.

It's easy to underappreciate this EP. Having seen Headlights live twice since the release of The Enemies EP, I can see how their sound has grown and filled in, so that these four songs almost feel more like sketches to me. Nevertheless, as I examine it on its own merits, it's clear that the all four songs on the EP point towards a band with a extraordinary sense of musical construction, which is a skill that is only likely to increase as time progresses.

Related Links:

Headlights performed at Corndogorama 2005.
A review of EP2 by Headlights.


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