Redshift Headlights have managed to maintain an incredible pace with writing music and playing shows, all while coordinating schedules between its various members. Needless to say, this ambitious six-piece has an artistic hunger that at times seems insatiable. Their 2017 debut, Inside Voices, featured orchestral arrangements amid a backdrop of lyrical storytelling. Now, only a year and a half later, they’ve returned with their sophomore release, the appropriately-titled Oshkosh. All of the members are Oshkosh natives, and this album is, simply put, an honest expression of living in Wisconsin’s Event City.
Much like its predecessor, Oshkosh explores cultural shifts and the human condition through the stories of individuals. This time around, Redshift Headlights has moved from historical short stories, instead opting for something (literally) closer to home. The sextet explore Oshkosh’s past and present, as well as how key events and local mythology intersect with day-to-day life and larger societal matters. There’s plenty of namedropping here, too; on one hand, there are local “icons” like Two-Coat Tony and Al Eide (to whom the second track is dedicated), national figures like Johnny Depp and Henry Rollins, and a cast of figures only referenced by first name that represent the larger general populous. It’s an artistic risk to localize an album to such a degree, but for Oshkosh natives and those familiar with the area, the content is extremely real.
Musically, the album maintains a similar balance of chamber-folk as seen on Inside Voices, albeit at times a bit less focus on the orchestral end. Certainly, the album is not lacking when it comes to dynamics and feels full nonetheless – songs are carefully layered, and guest contributions of Auralai’s Stephanie Tschech and Eric Van Thiel of Haunted Heads help round out several of the tracks. Additional instrumentation is provided by Miyoko Grine-Fisher on cello and the Fox Cities’ trumpet queen Renée Millard (RedHawks, Tyler and the Streeters). Of course, you can expect the same vibraphone presence and use of auxiliary percussion the band is known for.
Oshkosh does manage to cover quite a bit of new ground as well. Palm-muted chords on “Al Eide is a Preacher” could classify as the heaviest thing the band has done to date; “Thank God This Peace” mingles bossa nova with a recount of Oshkosh Corporation’s history; “These are Your Best Days” is a quintessential closing track with incredible dynamics and prominent piano parts.
Ultimately, Oshkosh is full of memorable moments, catchy riffs, and artistic fervor. Tracks like “Dust We’ve Left”, “We’re Electric”, and “The Skyline of Those Times” are instant classics due to their dynamic compositions and serve as great starting points for new listeners. Lyrics once again are strewn with references – some which listeners may certainly not be privy to. This level of obfuscation isn’t necessarily to the harm of the record, and it leaves room for the listener to investigate. Whether intentional or not, Redshift Headlights manages to ask some big questions: How well do we know our own communities? How do we respond to pain in our backyards? How do we process the ephemera that permeates life? Thankfully, it’s an invitation, not a court order, and they’re willing to walk alongside listeners in search of answers across the nine tracks.
Check out “Al Eide is a Preacher” below and stop by Gibson Music Hall this upcoming Saturday, 9/22, for the album release show. Music starts at 6:30.