Friday, May 30, 2008

Great Northern- Trading Twilight For Daylight

Review by Andrew Daniels

Picture this: three twenty-something friends, resembling disheveled hipsters but still attaining that accessible clean-cut look, are riding in a brand new Toyota Yaris on a bridge in the early hours of the morning, with a glowing cityscape in their sights. They’re embracing their youth, because, hey, just because they work eight-hour days doesn’t mean they can’t break loose at night. A swirling orchestration of strings, complete with a buzzing alarm and building acoustic guitars, sweeps into the forefront. It’s the opening of Great Northern’s “Home”, and it’s the perfect soundtrack to that majestic last shot, the clincher that effectively convinces you to buy your Yaris immediately: the three friends speed off into the distance in the car, ready to go wherever the night takes them.

I just made this band a million bucks.

Car commercial producers everywhere, please take note of Great Northern, for their 2007 debut album, Trading Twilight for Daylight, is filled with auditory moments that can ably complement scenes like the one I described above. The band is sitting on a landmine of licensing potential with this material, and it’s evident from the first track, “Our Bleeding Hearts”, to the closer, “Babies.” Perhaps it wasn’t their intention to craft music that lends itself to shilling products so well, but you could make the case that every one of these songs is designed to sell something. Because there’s such an abundance of pleasant atmospherics and cascading harmonies present, Twilight is ideal background music for any marketing scenario. The problem is, because Great Northern makes music that blends into the scenery so well, it never moves out of the background; thus, it becomes instantly forgettable.

Credit the band – a Los Angeles four-piece led by former 30 Seconds To Mars guitarist Solon Bixler and keyboardist Rachel Stolte – for their lofty ambitions. Each song feels like a dream, complete with as many intricate parts necessary to evoke that unconsciousness. The emphasis throughout the album is placed on the blend between Bixler’s and Stolte’s ethereal voices. The two vocalists balance each other, with Bixler’s mellow tone serving as the right counterpart to Stolte’s larger, more operatic one. At no other point on the album is this more evident than on the aforementioned “Home.” Here, Bixler plays the quiet set-up man on the verses, making room for Stolte’s huge, lush chorus. When it hits, it’s haunting and it’s powerful. It’s a shame that after the song finishes, nothing else that follows is nearly as majestic or as memorable.

And that’s the difficulty with the album: it’s pleasant and well-crafted, but it doesn’t possess any of the qualities needed to leave a lasting impression on the listener. There are fifteen seconds here and there – like the Brit-pop pre-chorus in “Telling Lies”, or the unabashedly perky opening guitar in “Into The Sun” – that hint at something great, but ultimately fail to meet their own potential. It’s frustrating, because this band has it in them to deliver something truly terrific, given the collective talent they clearly have. For now, we’re left with scattered snippets, as if the band chose to showcase all of their capabilities in the span of eight-bar teasers.

Really, though, maybe fifteen seconds is all it takes to appreciate music today. It’s a very real possibility that the only glimpse of a band people now get is that part of a chorus buried in the background of a commercial. Perhaps Great Northern is content with that. After all, if they can’t write a great album, they might as well settle for writing just enough to sell a Yaris.

- Andrew Daniels

Hear "Home" and other songs from Trading Twilight for Daylight on Great Northern's MySpace page.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent review. I saw this band at the Webster and they were tight, but a disappointment. You hit the nail right on the head -- they've got their shit together, but none of it is really substantial.