Predatory Headlights


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Predatory Headlights Review

by Mark Deming

Creative ambition can be a wonderful thing, but it also has its limits. Tenement are a band from the wilds of Appleton, Wisconsin who have a talent for sharp, hooky punk tunes with a garagey accent and strong melodies. After making a pair of fine albums (Napalm Dream and The Blind Wink, both released in 2011), Tenement took their time with their third effort, and they clearly wanted to make something more than just another pop-punk album. And there's no arguing Tenement have delivered something out of the ordinary with 2015's Predatory Headlights. The band's songcraft is impressive, the performances are tough but tight and proudly heartfelt, and the tunes are diverse enough to keep this music from sinking into the cookie-cutter hegemony of lazier punk bands, moving past the ordinary power trio format to include sweet harmonies, acoustic guitars, keyboards, strings, and creative tape manipulation. But while Tenement are maturing into an outstanding rock & roll band, it's clear their ambitions stretch beyond that, so Predatory Headlights is punctuated by several experimental pieces (often nameless) built from distressed string charts, masses of percussion, and not-quite-in-tune pianos. Some of the pieces work as mood pieces, but more often they sound like pretentious noodling, and more importantly, they don't do much for the album's momentum; in particular, the nine-minute "A Frightening Place for Normal People" sounds like an effects track for a nonexistent horror movie, and coming between two acoustic numbers, it changes what could have been a quiet but evocative interlude into a sonic desert that nearly sinks the album. And what's good here is often excellent, especially the fierce, no-nonsense rock of "Dull Joy" and "The Butcher," the bluesy swagger of "Whispering Kids," the Stones-flavored "You Keep Me Cool" and "Hive of Hives," the spare acoustic menace of "Licking a Wound," the near-hardcore blast of "Near You," and the stylish pop of "Why Are We Where We Are." With some judicious trimming, Predatory Headlights could have been a creative breakthrough and a great listen from front to back; as it is, this is a good album whose occasional nosedives into pretentiousness keep it from being great, though despite its flaws, it's well worth a listen and confirms Tenement are a band with remarkable promise.

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