Music

Great Northern: Remind Me Where the Light Is

Sophomore album from this L.A. groups looks up to commercialism -- car commercials, movie soundtracks, video games.


Great Northern

Remind Me Where the Light Is

Label: Eenie Meenie
US Release Date: 2009-04-28
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon
iTunes

Great Northern are a band from Los Angeles, and they’ve previously released an album, Trading Twilight for Daylight, and an EP, Sleepy Eepee (which was recorded before the debut but re-released last year). Still, Remind Me Where the Light Is, the band's second LP, has the feeling of a debut. Maybe that’s the problem: Although Sleepy Eepee seemed an enjoyable listen at the time, it has also proved to be largely forgettable, as Great Northern have faded into the great unwashed mass of indie-pop boy-girl groups. How are they ever going to climb out?

The band answers by gearing up for greater and more mainstream things. Remind Me Where the Light Is sets its sights firmly on mainstream-rock radio and never looks back, grasping at modern success-story referents with both hands. Now they have the Killers’ steady, upbeat-pop take on new wave; now they ape Coldplay’s major triad melodies and piano arpeggii. At least the group previously had some small measure of self-aware wit; however, here, it has been traded for conventionalities and clichés. One thing Great Northern could claim as semi-unique is a use of drone-like guitar fuzz, neatly kept in the background to build atmosphere. Here, too, though, the band occasionally strays into other groups’ territory. “Mountain”, for instance, tries for something like Arcade Fire-like triumphalism with big, rolling percussion and tremolo guitars. It’s atmospheric, true, but a studio can’t recreate the sound of a large ensemble sawing its heart out.

Occasionally, though, Great Northern’s anthemic choruses do feel earned. “Fingers”, with its refrain (“It’s the weight of the world that we’re under”) has all the same components: gentle fuzz, chugging piano and big strings, but somehow it captures that nostalgic feeling well. On the slower songs like “Warning”, where the pattering drum machine recalls the Postal Service, the band employs echo and tonal juxtaposition effectively. “New Tricks” does, as promised, try something different, and the experiment pays off, sounding more relaxed and more dissonant. The song works because, for once, the group breaks out of a completely conventional songwriting mode. There’s even -- no, really -- some dissonance.

However, taking the album as a whole, the group falls into compositional pitfalls a few too many times. They use sustained vocal lines pitched in similar ranges, and melodically the material sounds super tame. Most of the choruses don’t rise far above the verses and instead rely on repetition rather than melody to hammer home a refrain. Quite simply, the group writes short phrases that rise or fall in single tones. Furthermore, you’ll recognize some melodies from pop hits recent and distant. Simon Bixler’s vocals aren’t quite as compelling as Rachel Stolte’s, though they share that alternative groaning delivery –- again, conventional and intended for radio, which has been Great Northern’s strategy.

Its songs have appeared on commercials and video games and movies, and the project’s clearly a commercial-minded enterprise. If you heard one of these choruses in isolation you might be momentarily caught. The album’s cleanly produced and confidently performed, and the material has been polished up until it shines brightly at first. But a few repetitions quickly drain Remind Me Where the Light Is of much of its impact.

5

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

'We're Not Here to Entertain' Is Not Here to Break the Cycle of Punk's Failures

Even as it irritates me, Kevin Mattson's We're Not Here to Entertain is worth reading because it has so much direct relevance to American punks operating today.

Film

Uncensored 'Native Son' (1951) Is True to Richard Wright's Work

Compared to the two film versions of Native Son in more recent times, the 1951 version more acutely captures the race-driven existential dread at the heart of Richard Wright's masterwork.

Music

3 Pairs of Boots Celebrate Wandering on "Everywhere I Go" (premiere)

3 Pairs of Boots are releasing Long Rider in January 2021. The record demonstrates the pair's unmistakable chemistry and honing of their Americana-driven sound, as evidenced by the single, "Everywhere I Go".

Books

'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.

Music

Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".

Music

PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor
Film

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.

Music

Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.

Music

Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.

Music

Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.

Music

Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.

Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.