Cars' headlights present a fascinating paradox. Though they keep drivers safe by illuminating dark roads, they can also blind the creatures in their path, creating danger.
There's a similar twist in the music of Illinois indie-pop darlings Headlights, who craft gentle melodies to explore treacherous topics like death, loss and alienation on their new release, Wildlife. You might start out a carefree listener, enjoying a pretty chord or harmony, but when you mull over the lyrics, it's hard to avoid getting choked up.
"Dead Ends" notes that your friends are growing old and that you may lose touch with them long before they die. Singer/keyboardist Erin Fein's laments of "Don't you want to say goodbye?" and "Don't you want to say you tried?" in "Love Song for Buddy" may lead to sobs, even if you're normally pretty composed.
Gloomy subject matter like this has made many bands adopt an aggressive sound or sink in a sea of despair. Headlights manage to remain afloat, even when they explore disturbing memories.
Those who've heard Headlights' previous albums know the band don't typically take such a dark road to their destination. Their best-known track, "Cherry Tulips," has a gentle touch that might be mistaken for melancholy, but its cheery bells and upbeat tempo make it hard to file in the "downers" folder. Plus, its music video has far too much smiling for that.
The key to Wildlife, on the other hand, is failure. The band ended up scrapping their first set of recordings, perhaps because they didn't anticipate how heavy the emotional load of the album would be. Guitarist Tristan Wraight says it's the first album that has a great deal of personal meaning for the band - meaning tied to the many losses that are part of becoming an adult.
Taking on topics like burying loved ones and growing apart from old friends may have led to some good ideas, but it may also have spooked the band on the first go-round. The process of picking up the pieces gave Wildlife the buoyancy it needed to survive.
Headlights, UW Memorial Union Rathskeller, Saturday, Dec. 12, 9:30 pm