I put this on my stereo and almost instantly, found myself nodding appreciatvely. Pounding drumbeats, gritty guitars, the kind of thrashing glam stomp that never fails to capture my attention. 30 seconds into their 2nd album and Great Northern manage to tick every box in the GaragePunk questionnaire. Two things made me listen a little more closely though. That guitar, it’s a solid wall of noise that owes more to the Ramones than I usually hear. And Rachel Stolte’s voice is a startlingly original one, a combination of mellow toughness that holds the tune as opposed to shredding it with vocal aerobatics. Listening to the full eleven tracks on Remind Me … it is very apparent that Great Northern are only using the garage/shoegaze template as only a start point for their considerable talents. Anyone expecting a retro fuzz guitar workout isn’t exactly in for a disappointment.
Third track “Fingers” is the real measure of what Great Northern are really about, now that they’ve caught your attentions. An acoustic opening passage and an artfully literate lyric, “I’ll build a wall / under the sea”, the song builds gradually as piano and guitar jostle for attention. When the chorus finally does arrive it takes a sudden detour into near operatic levels of drama although this is left to the instruments, not the vocal. I listened more intently for what I heard of a string section, and an agreeable electronic simulacra of violin and cello, probably inspired by Great Northern’s work alongside Ladytron, screeches across the intro to 4th track “Snakes”.
As the album progresses, so the instrumentation continues to grow ever more involved, and I found this vaguely unsettling. Great Northern is prepared to stick it’s neck out musically, but the methodical approach had me yearning for something a bit less neat and tidy (Indie purist that I suddenly realise I am) and stretching song styles right from 2-chord mashup to thoughtfully composed piano ballad is something of a leap in the dark that Remind Me … struggles to make. Slightly, very subtly, but as the arrangements get ever more complicated and the pace of the songs continues to slow, I found myself yearning for a sudden howl of agression, for a less well-mannered approach to musicality, for a bit more of the kind of noise bands such as Autodrone and We Are Hex can so effortlessly pull out of their hats. I began to wonder where Solon Bixler and Rachel Stolte’s hearts really lie, listening to “Stop”, a dreampop ballad reconfigured onto a player piano, a song somehow at odds with the triumphal chant of ‘”Mountain”, while “Driveway” is a low-key harmonium setpiece that had me recalling Mercury Rev.
That is really the downfall of this flawed yet urgently listenable album. With so many influences competing for attention, plus a smoothly polished production from Mike Patterson (BRMC, Ladytron), Remind Me ... has the feel of two albums compressed into one, and a slightly more minimal approach to instrumentation would have given some of the slower numbers added gravitas. That isn’t to say that anyone listening to all eleven tracks here will feel somehow cheated. You won’t, you might even feel elated or energised or find your feet tapping along when least expected. You might, though, find the continuous musical invention a bit forced. A little less would’ve made for a whole lot more from Great Northern.