Starting on the classic set up of four-track recorders, friends Solon Bixler (vocals/guitar) and Rachel Stolte (vocals/keyboard) began working on their debut album, Trading Twilight To Daylight from their hometown of Los Angeles. This was before they met engineer/producer Mathias Schneeberger (famous for his work with Greg Dulli and Queens Of The Stone Age).
Production notes aside, Great Northern’s best asset by far is the ethereal vocals of Stolte, which provide the centerpiece and the high point for almost every song on this album. Behind those vocals, the band’s melodies are slow, languid, and reach back to Britain’s brief flirtation with shoegazer bands for inspiration.
Adding electronic drums and synthetic strings to the standard guitar/bass/drums lineup, Great Northern’s songs aren’t particularly memorable, but that are pleasant enough in their maddening inoffensiveness.
If you can recall any of the songs played over the closing credits to the latest romantic comedy coming out of Hollywood, you’ve probably got a pretty good idea what Great Northern’s slower songs sound like. They’re predominantly based around Stolte’s vocals over top of a twinkling piano line, strings, and a guitar, building to a climax that ultimately ends up falling short of fulfilling. The album’s opener “Our Bleeding Hearts” is a perfect example, with its “doesn’t it make you feel better” chorus fading in and out without any real emotion.
When not rolling out long, piano and string ballads, Great Northern becomes a pounding rock band comparable to anything else on the radio (or the aforementioned romantic comedy), where I wouldn’t be surprised to hear “Home” or “Telling Lies,” a couple of the more upbeat tunes here.
Stuck right in the middle is the inexplicably five minute long, “Low Is The Height.” This song’s more or less a drone that really brings down the already limited energy created by the three preceding songs. The album lacks any standout track, aside from “The Middle,” which is the second-to-last song before “Babies” brings it to a whimpering end.
Generally unimaginative and a chore to work through, Trading Twilight For Daylight, is a tough slog. I hope Stolte lends her vocals to something more interesting in the future. This is ideal for fans of Keane, Coldplay, Snow Patrol and other corporate rock.
Trading Twilight To Daylight will be released next Tuesday, May 15.