“I put it in the same side of my brain as Linda Ronstadt, Neil Young, and Jackson Browne. Going to a show also feels like stepping into a time machine. Do it. You’ll thank me later. ” – Phoebe Bridgers
As Gold Star, Marlon Rabenreither makes music that is as chromatic as an old convertible glittering in the desert sun. His music is nostalgic, hazy, and often cavernous. On Headlights USA, his 5th release, Rabenreither writes expansive and lush songs that are laden with literary references and images plucked from time spent traveling throughout the American interior.
Headlights USA is a shift in a new direction for Rabenreither. The Los Angeles-based musician has been releasing music as Gold Star since 2012. Early on in his career, he toured with Lucinda Williams, and since then, he’s challenged what his music can be and what it should sound like. Headlights USA broadens Rabenreither’s palette as an artist. The record is huge and layered, featuring not only guitars but also pedal steel, vintage drum machines, and flourishes of Mellotron and Rhodes piano. Rabenreither conceived of Headlights USA during quarantine. The EP’s five songs were initially just meant to be demos, but when he went to record them in the more traditional way he’d done on earlier Gold Star releases, it did not capture the spirit he’d hoped to convey. He decided to expand his vision, to change the sonic landscape he’d previously built upon.
These songs are worlds of their own, little universes full of muscular arrangements and huge vocals. Opener “Surrender,” takes inspiration from the seedy drama of Denis Johnson short stories, and features lyrics about the quality of light in motel rooms and the feeling of lying awake all night in bed. “I spent 20 hours playing parlor games in Dallas,” sings Rabenreither over guitar fuzz and a drum machine that moves like a perfectly shuffled deck of cards. “Heaven,” is a study in autofiction. The song is based on Rabenreither’s friend overdosing on Valentine’s Day, and the lyrics are conversational, almost collage-like. It gives off the vibe of Sharon Van Etten, or maybe Big Star. Indeed, Headlights USA, is a record that is velvety, like the kind of thing you’d hear pour out of a jukebox ata bar with dim lights and vinyl booths.
Headlights USA took about a year and a half to make, and was recorded in different bedrooms and studio spaces all over Los Angeles. It enlists the help of friends and collaborators like Jordan Odom, who plays guitars and bass, and also co wrote some of the songs, and Nick Murray (Cate le Bon, White Fence) on drums. It also features mixing from Chris Coady (Beach House, Blonde Redhead), who helped turn those demos into the fully realized songs they are now. The result is an album that feels like a postcard: it’s vivid and gorgeous. The kind of place you’d want to live.