Great Northern Provides Memorable Depth on Debut
On the cover of Great Northern‘s debut album, Trading Twilight for Daylight, sits a barren tree backed by an arctic landscape. Such a dormant image is ironic considering the band’s lively and articulately layered sound, with traditional instrumentation being complemented by the likes of strings, brass, and other orchestral elements that are often considered too complex or overbearing to even visit the usually simplistic world of indie pop. Demonstrating the ability to take risks, Great Northern are one of the more capable bands of their element I have heard lately. Based out of Los Angeles, Great Northern was formed due to the strong friendship of pianist Rachel Stolte and guitarist Solon Bixler, both proficient songwriters and lead vocalists. Initially considered a side project, Stolte and Bixler began to eventually recognize the strength of the songs they were writing for sheer enjoyment. Indeed, most of their solid material was found flowing through the early portions of Great Northern. After they were joined by Ashley Dterigan and Davey Latter, the four began to devote most of their entire schedule to the former side project to which they later named Great Northern. After performing at a variety of venues, they gained a good amount of momentum from glowing press reviews, with the LA Times and Filter Magazine mentioning that Great Northern was “a band to keep an eye on in 2006”. After building local success relatively quickly, Great Northern played with reputable artists such as Smog, The Fiery Furnaces, and Ladytron, building a reputation throughout the LA area with precisely executed live shows, talented musicianship, and agreeable songwriting. They also take pride in being one of the bands who are given the advantage of working at The Ship, a famous studio in LA that has hosted the likes of Grandaddy and Earlimart. After spreading their material and self-made EPs around town a bit, it eventually caught the eyes and ears of Eeenie Meenie Records, who signed them to a record deal last September. Their first official release was later announced with fans rejoicing at the thought of how Great Northern’s blatant potential would incorporate itself with professional production and newly acquired experience.
Their debut, Trading Twilight for Daylight, was released several months later in February 2007. Though the visible influences are more collective than one may expect, there are certainly shades of The Flaming Lips (most notably with Bixler’s strainy reverbed vocals), Mercury Rev, and Silversun Pickups scattered throughout the commendable album. Many of the songs are distinctively consistent in their formulaic approach, often creating an initial point where a singular instrument establishes the melody, eventually being picked up by a diverse array of further instrumentation. An accurate example would be the stellar “Just A Dream”. While the strings and theatric percussion establishes the initial tone in a unique dramatical and efficient presentation, the song slowly fades into a quiet murmur of piano and bass, accompanied by the steady and charming vocals of Rachel Stolte. In an abrupt burst of raw power, an assortment of guitars, keys, bass, percussion, and strings are all showcased to provide for a memorable chorus in which Stolte and Bixler share a favorable duet. The lyrics, in addition to the musical instrumentation, is in the form of a desperate romantic. “Long roads never cast the long burning embers of your heart,” both core musicians sing in unison over the plucking of violins and the array of various instruments, “when the sun rose the surface, it removed the reflection of you.” The sun proves to be a consistent metaphor of romantic hope throughout Trading Twilight for Daylight, appearing again in Bixler’s shining (horrible pun) moment, “A Sun A Sound”, and the most electric song on the album, “Into The Sun”, which borderlines post-punk before a graceful bridge in which the keys and string plucks remind us of Great Northern’s deeper and less edgier intentions. The chorus is also the most energetic that can be found on the album, with Stolte’s transition from the elegance of “Just A Dream” into the fury of “Into The Sun” being quite impressive. “A Sun A Sound” is another enjoyable song, this time featuring guitarist Solon Bixler on vocals. Though his vocals are certainly not as distinct or effective as Wayne Coyne, there is certainly a complementary similarity to be shared. The musical impact is more precisely interlaced, though also more predictable than expected following the vast resources of instrumentation. Bixler and Stolte are often found splitting vocal duties equally, making up for missed opportunities by participating in melodically enchanting duets. Though several songs like “City Of Sleep” and “The Middle” feel too bloated, the majority of Trading Twilight for Daylight is an enjoyable experience. I find Great Northern’s style to be particularly effective, with both vocalists sounding like naturals over likable sets of orchestral instrumentation. The songwriting is arduous and bold, characterized by deep layers of intensely arranged instrumentation. Those who enjoy the occasional melodramatic touch over the constant rush of strings, keys, and guitars should find great enjoyment in Great Northern’s debut.