It's practically common knowledge that side-project groups of already successful bands don't often produce music much worth listening to, but you wouldn't know that these days. There's The Postal Service, for one -- Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie's electronic project that for years now has had everyone from the Village Voice to Rolling Stone tripping over modifiers. And now there's also Neon Blonde, an oddly poppish collaboration between the Blood Brothers' Johnny Whitney and Mark Gajadhar. Happily, it's more good news: In spirit, the duo's latest release references the shrieking, emotional maelstrom of a Blood Brothers record, and with pitch-perfect aim. As for the sound? Imagine Whitney's howling vocal style, then insert vaguely new-wave keys where the pounding of guitars and drums might be.
Headlines certainly isn't complicated, and that almost seems to be the point. What's more, Whitney manages to easily display a different vocal trick on each song, and the effect is something akin to an aural cliffhanger. Spend time with Headlines, and assuming you're a fan of punk histrionics and artfully arranged song structure, you'll likely be clamoring for the follow-up. None of the stylistic repetition of an average Blood Brothers album shows up here, and that's likely because there simply isn't enough time. Working within the relatively brief confines of a four-song EP, Whitney is forced to get in quick and get out even quicker. And especially on the album's third track, "Savannah Nights," that formula works wonders. With its slightly subdued emotional punch and its lack of crushing noise, consider this the Blood Brothers album that even your mother could love.