There's nothing groundbreaking from Minnesota punk rockers Banner Pilot on their fourth album, but it's a solid release from a solid bunch of dudes.
Banner Pilot hail from Minneapolis, MN, carrying on the long tradition of quality punk rock that stretches back to the cloudy-eyed 80s. The four men of Banner Pilot ply their trade in in 21st Century compliant songs cut from the whole cloth of 90’s East Bay punk rock. Jawbreaker is a significant (and obvious) influence, but one can’t discount the impact local acts like Screeching Weasel and Dillinger Four have had on the band. Souvenir is the fourth full-length for the gents, once again for Fat Wreck. The Banner Pilot franchise music machine isn’t broken and they’ve made little effort to fix it. Souvenir sports a dozen snappy little punk numbers that pass in just about 40 minutes, stretching from two-minute short sharp shocks past the three-minute mark with more regularity. Souvenir’s closing track nears twice that length. Granted there is some artiness padding out the back end, but the gents have to be given props for trying to push the envelope a little in their tenth year.
Said envelope pushing is the double-edged sword here. Personally, I think that I am in the majority in wanting to hear Banner Pilot ply their trade in the post-Weasel punk rock that is so representative of the Twin Cities, but even this writer and his dubious station wherein I have been dubbed by poorly chosen scene friends as "Banner Pilot’s Merch Guy" is finding it harder and harder to ignore the fact that a lot of these songs tread very familiar ground. It’s far from a bad thing, and Souvenir is far from a bad record. As an admitted mark for Banner Pilot, I’d equate it to the comfortable vibe you hopefully enjoy at your favorite establishment of rock purveyance, but I can definitely see some haterade being consumed by critics.
As with their previous full-lengths, Souvenir was recorded by Jacques Wait at the Terrarium in Minneapolis. There is an obvious familiarity between the parties, and recording in their hometown made it easier to take breaks and reevaluate the songs as they progressed. Things jump off with the one-two punch of "Modern Shakes" and first single "Effigy". Both figure the big drums and chunky guitars that support the driving bass and suitably rotund hooks we’ve come to expect from Banner Pilot.
The midway point of the record finds the gents breaking the four-minute mark for the first time on the record with "Letterbox", then following up with "Shoreline". Arguably the best track on Souvenir, the track surges out of the gate before downshifting into an enormous lighters-in-the-air chorus that should go down a storm live.
Bassist/songwriter Nate Gangelhoff blazes out of the gate on "Hold Fast", grabbing the reins and heading off to the races for just under three minutes of surging bass-driven goodness. And hold fast they do, retreading on "Colfax", which starts slower then turns into "Spanish Reds" from the last record. If there is any other niggle to be made about Souvenir, it’s the rampant Jawbreaker jocking that goes on throughout. Now there are certainly worse bro-mages to base a song or two on, but there are two or three places here where the line is a little too close for guys as talented as these to tread. Nick Johnson may not ape the adenoidal splendor of Jawbreaker frontman Blake Schwarzenbach, but the opening of "Matchstick" is some American Idiot-grade musical appropriation. Again, not a deal-breaker, but certainly an eyebrow raiser for this old man. Younger fans and newcomers to the Banner Pilot party will no doubt eat Souvenir up: it’s a great sounding record with some decent songs. Nothing groundbreaking, but a solid release from a solid bunch of dudes. Look for them this Summer in a tour van near you.