Headlights: The Enemies EP

Kevin Jagernauth

Ex-Absinthe Blind and Maserati members paint their indie rock in black, and their debut is one of the most exciting and breathless releases of the past year.


The Enemies EP

Label: Polyvinyl
US Release Date: 2004-08-31
UK Release Date: Available as import

The EP is the perhaps the most maligned of release formats. Often used as a band's dumping ground for b-sides, covers or live tracks, the EP is usually an item resigned to diehard fans of the artist only. Champaign, Illinois' Headlights on the other hand, have reclaimed the format for their own. The Enemies is Headlights' four-song statement of intent -- and what a statement it is. The traditional indie rock line-up, is fleshed out with electronic flourishes, and a nice variety of backing instrumentation including pedal steel and violin. Falling somewhere between My Bloody Valentine and Rainer Maria, Headlights play black velvet curtained indie rock to shimmering perfection.

The band sets the tone for The Enemies on the stunning intro "Tokyo". The track opens with subdued electronic noise, before bursting wide open, with beautifully picked guitar and pedal steel (dexterously played by Bud Carroll) nicely complimenting each other. What resonated the most with this listener, were the small sonic details scattered throughout the song. Each line of the verse, with shared vocals by guitarist Tristan Wraight and keyboardist Erin Fein, comes to an almost full stop, with little shards of electronic glitch or guitar noise to fill the space, creating an undulating, but undeniable, momentum. However, it's the chorus, with its poetic lyrics ("Another broken heart/ Another town you must/ Take in stride") and the soaring lap steel as Wraight sings "stride" that will hook listeners.

"Centuries", finds Headlights switching gears and picking up the tempo with a more upbeat number that recalls Club 8. With its insistent keyboard line and dual vocals, the song is positively infectious. Again, small details like a surging synth line and additional percussion, make this a rewarding listen, and it's a small wonder that Wraight and Fein can make a line like "We'll all die someday" into a sing-along anthem.

The introduction of "Everybody Needs a Fence to Lean On" displays a Portishead influence, as Fein quietly sings accompanied by a minimal, but dour, keyboard line. This doesn't last too long however, as the song swings back the other way into another delicious pop number, led by a hook laden bass line. Again, it's an unlikely line ("Everybody has their enemies") that will stay in listeners' heads for the next few days. This another song in which Wraight and Fein share and trade off vocals, and in case it hasn't sunk in yet, their voices are Headlights' secret weapon.

The EP closes with "It Isn't Easy to Live That Well", a beautiful combination of chiming guitars, moody synths and Fein's undeniable vocals. This track is easily the synthesis of Headlights' sound. The group has an uncanny ability in shrouding dark emotions with nicely crafted pop hooks. Feeling bad has never sounded this good.

Some of the credit for this EP's success must be given to Adam Schmidt. Credited with recording and mixing the album, he provides a spacious and airy playground for the group. The drums are bold, the bass thick, the guitars light and airy with the keyboards gently woven throughout. But none of this would've succeeded without the songs.

Unfortunately The Enemies is available only through mail order, but it's more than worth the effort in tracking down. Hit up the Polyvinyl website, add this to your cart, and experience one of the most refreshing and assured indie rock debuts of 2004.






'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.


Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".


PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.


Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.


Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.


Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.


Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.


Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.