Saturday, April 25, 2009

Review: Great Northern - Show Me Where The Light Is (* * * 1/2)

Started several years ago as a side project for Solon Bixler - formerly of 30 Seconds To Mars - and Rachel Stolte, Great Northern soon became the duo's primary gig. The band's new record, Show Me Where The Light Is, is the follow-up to their 2007 debut, Trading Twilight For Daylight, which was a pleasant, but low-impact affair that went largely unnoticed. Their new material features a bigger, more epic sound with walls of guitars and layers of vocals that sometimes falls into generic alt-rock territory, but often creates some surprising and fascinating results. I imagine that this record will have a fairly broad appeal due to it's mix of familiar presentation with some more progressive elements.

Where The Light Is is the kind of record that took me a few spins to get into. After a cursory listen, I didn't find much that sucked me in, but a week or so later - after some more time with the album - I had discovered quite a bit to love. When the album stays into more radio-ready rock territory, the results are consistent but not especially interesting, as on the opening two tracks - the dark, intense "Story" and the more eerie "Houses," where the band seem sincere but perhaps a bit unoriginal. Still, some of their more mainstream cuts still hit pretty hard, like "Mountain" on the record's latter half, an emotional, explosive, and generally fantastic song that doesn't so much introduce a new idea as it plays to the band's strengths more interestingly than some of their other songs.

When the duo stretch themselves a bit more, the results are impressive and give the record some welcome variety. "Fingers" adds some fuzz and an haunting edge that clashes at times with the warm, inviting vocals, and "Snakes" features some synth and string flourishes that give the song a fascinating texture. Their slower numbers, the gorgeous duet, "Stop," and the folksy closer, "33," also can be counted toward the stronger half of the tracks, with some interesting production choices that lift and enhance the songs to become more than simply low-key ballads.

Though this is an uneven record, it's an album that shows Great Northern is a band with some creative energy and the musical chops to back it up. The group are anything but lazy, and Show Me Where The Light Is certainly feels like a hard-earned step forward. If they continue the trend, I think these two have plenty of great music left to offer us. If you're interested in hearing more, check out the band's MySpace page.