Great Northern – Trading Twighlight For Daylight

Great Northern
Trading Twighlight For Daylight

From the album art to the lonely, melancholy music – and even the name chosen by the Great Northern quartet – it might be a surprise that this group in fact chooses to call California their home. Somewhere in Canada might be a more fitting location. Even their style might suggest as much with a likeness to groups like The New Pornographers or Stars, both featuring male/female duets over melodramatic music.

Featured heavily in vocals, Rachel Stolte, has a sound somewhere between Neko Case and Amy Millan with a soothing breathiness that fits well with Solon Bixler as a more airy Wayne Coyne. Their lush harmonies add an endearing quality to the album that helps to add a little heat to the chilly tunes.

A piano opens “Our Bleeding Hearts” with chimes and a spare sound that immediately harkens back to Wilco’s “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” but with much more order. Then, Stolte’s soft voice enters and all thoughts of Jeff Tweedy are pushed aside. Her vocals pull you in and instantly let you know that this group is on to something. Something good. Like many the bands mentioned thus far, Great Northern also like to fill their songs with dramatic sweeps of guitars, piano, strings, and anything else they can layer in for added fullness. At times Trading Twilight for Daylight is nearly bursting at the seams. It may have been nice to experience the group with a bit less going on, but that is hardly a major complaint. However, the computerized vocals in “Low Is A Height” does go over the top for me in terms of effects. I felt that actually took away from the song rather than adding anything unique or useful. It took what could’ve been a heart-wrenching ballad and gave it an unnecessary Enya feel that was more silly than beautiful. I would’ve rather heard the naked vocals of Stolte shine over the layered electronic strings.

“Just A Dream” shines on of Trading Twiglight with layers of Beatlesque strings over driving drums and guitar that all float along on a strong bass line. This song begins to move away from the softer side of the group. Later, “Telling Lies” is full-on indie rock with a hint of Snow Patrol added into the mix as well as fellow Los Angeles-based band, Silversun Pickups. “A Sun A Sound” lies somewhere in between and features New Porn-like vocal harmonies. But their bread and butter are the twinkling low-tempo beauties that dot the frozen landscape of their album. Sandwiched with piano-led opener “Our Bleeding Hearts” and closing with the “Babies”, whose music sounds awfully similar to Lemon Jelly’s “Ramblin’ Man”, the listener is left with a feeling of contentment that makes the chilly north seem like a good place after all.

The Great Northerners have taken studious notes from other male/female led groups and they do well with the dreamier side of powerpop. By splitting their debut album between cinematic anthems and icy ballads, they keep the listener interested and yearning for more. The band has carved itself out a spot among those to pay attention to in the near future. Now, as they continue to hone their craft and break out in their own unique way, the Great Northerners could easily emerge among the top artists in their genre. They certainly have the talent to do it.