So, summer is drawing to a close. The beer gardens have grown cold, the sun is hidden behind grey clouds, and all of our bright, floral clothes are in the wash. I don’t know about you, but I could really use a vibrant, indie-rock album to add some aestival flare to these chilly months.
Look no further than the distinguished trio, HEADPHONE. Composed of the collective talents of Morgan McRae (synths, lead vocals), Phillip Cullin (drums) and Darren Goldberg (bass), this Californian triumvirate is back with an addictive, new album!
Following the lustrous release of their second album (‘I Was a Ghost’), the boys are back with ‘A Spark Blown Out a Window’ and after listening to it, I can see why people think the third time’s a charm!
Employing the energetic talents of Grammy award-winning producer, Dave Schiffman, HEADPHONE’s naturally eclectic style is injected with an extra flavour of polished production. As a result, the trio have seamlessly combined their modern tonality with a classic analog synth hue.
The soundscape of HEADPHONE’s new album strikes a perfect balance between the mesmerizingly haunting qualities of Radiohead and the galvanising timbres of Depeche Mode.
A Spark Blown Out A Window
Every listener that encounters this album will be immersed into the iridescent rills of the introductory track ‘Setting Sun’. In the first thirty seconds, you feel as if you are coursing, in awe, through cosmic bursts of colours.
Already in my get-up-and-go playlist, Cullin’s powerhouse drums erupt through the mesmeric dynamics of the intro. The luscious tapestry of silky synths is effortlessly interwoven with the bright timbres of Cullin’s drums, mirroring the listener’s elevated heartbeat.
To ornament the animated ensemble, Goldberg’s crooning melodies on bass mellifluously parallels the 16-bit-esque, excitable synth riffs. The listener can’t help but feel as if they were transported to the world of arcade games from the 90s; this is what it sounds like when nostalgia meets renovation.
The cherry on top of this other-worldly arrangement: McRae’s vocals.
True to the indie-rock scene, McRae’s vocals encapsulates the best of the cursive delivery. Almost balletic, McRae’s voice sports a tender purity that softens the zestful harmonies of the instrumentation. McRae’s andantino pace of vocal delivery prominently glides atop the vivace structure of the instrumentation, blending the gentleness of indie with the soul-blazing vim of rock. What a perfect track to get you feeling revitalised!
As the album progresses, the listener is met with an unabashed grit, tossing you into an incisive swell of formidable drum beats. Met by Goldberg’s resonant, moody bass riffs, ‘Sunday Driver’ sets you up for a smoky, darksome flavour of HEADPHONE.
Having been recorded across Los Angeles, Joshua Tree and San Diego, the tracks of this album encapsulates the true essence of HEADPHONE. The result is what you experience as you meander through HEADPHONE’s smooth, kaleidoscopic venture into a range of deep emotion.
The almost-solemn thrutches of echoing synths, accompanied by the breathy, velvety delivery of McRae’s vocals, allude to a deeper narrative of escapism. This track perfectly reflects the longing for change. The overall poignant tone of the song elevates that emotional experience to encompass the sorrow of never feeling like you’ve fully found belonging within the world.
The diminuendo, whereby the harmonies abruptly slows into a hazy, dream-like tempo, is intoxicating. You feel as if you’ve been brought back down to earth atop the last notes of rippling, bright synths.
Already In Love
The last song of this enchanting, 9-track album slows down the overall dynamics even more. ‘Already In Love’ is where you feel the mastery of HEADPHONE’s craft, they know just when to rein it back to maximise the emotional impact of their songs.
This track was the one that enriched the depths of HEADPHONE’s range for me.
Starting with a grave tempo, a solitary piano is all that was needed to cushion McRae’s delicately genuine vocals. The minimal, quaint instrumentation within the intro is plentiful with glum tones; tones that foreshadow a thunderous crescendo.
Here comes the thunder: the grey-faced synths clamber through the track to meet an acidulous belligerence from Goldberg’s bass. The dissonance between Goldberg’s visceral bass and the soft harmony between McRae’s vocals and Cullin’s drums produces an atmosphere of glum that could darken the skies.
I’m convinced that this trio could bottle a storm, the control of every production layer is faultless, even with a song so rich in contrasting elements. When I heard this song, I nodded to myself and thought: ‘Yeah, these guys have really experienced heartache.’
It is spectacular how a small band, such as HEADPHONE, can create explosive, introspective narratives with such a detailed fusion of soundscapes.
In a world where nothing is original, I am astonished to have come across a sound so refreshing and distinct. ‘A Spark Blown Out A Window’ is what the indie-rock scene needs right now and I am more than ready to hear more from HEADPHONE.
My question is: aren’t you?