Headphones is a project of David Bazan and Tim Walsh, both from Pedro the Lion. The instrumentation consists of nothing but synthesizer and live drums. Moved by The Flaming Lips’ 1999 LP The Soft Bulletin (but who wasn’t?), David apparently decided to give synths a try. The sound doesn’t resemble The Lips’ “middle-age symphonies to God” approach, though; it’s more the sound of curiosity with the recent resurgence in electro-rock.
Headphones are at their best on more ambitious arrangements, where Bazan’s adept hooks combine with the glitch-simulating drum kit, and the social anxiety quotient is at its highest. Don’t miss pseudo-single “Hot Girls,” a catchy tune which fills a song-title gap a mile wide, or the day-to-day uncertainty of Bazan, a married man, deals instead with more adult questions of fidelity and friendship. Compared to the pop tradition of being vague about concerns (just ask Paul McCartney what exactly he said to make the “Yesterday” girl leave), it’s refreshing to hear Dave talk shit about his friends and call people out.
The band are no synth-geniuses, though, and the textures only differ in thickness and tempo, a real disappointment. Parts of the record really drag, with overly-simple, “moopy” tunes and Bazan’s cloying voice recalling the Magnetic Fields without the cuteness or the thrill of sexual deviance. As a side-project it’s satisfying, but music as a social construct requires a sense of direction; a new synth as a record concept was old in 1979. It’s easy to forget, though, when the hooks are so right.