Music

The Great Northern: Trading Twilight for Daylight

Tyler Womack

As a first album, Trading Twilight for Daylight feels too much like a retrospective: It has a lot to say about where it’s been, and very little about where it’s going.


The Great Northern

Trading Twilight for Daylight

Label: Eenie Meenie
US Release Date: 2007-05-15
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon
iTunes

Trading Twilight for Daylight is the Great Northern’s first album. It comes after two years together as a band, and that shows: The album’s sound is polished, confident, and well-thought out. It boasts half-a-dozen single-worthy songs. Unfortunately, the album is weighted towards its least interesting tracks -- songs that would have sounded derivative or overplayed in 1998. Today, they just seem unimaginative.

The Great Northern’s debut starts off with a cerebral lullaby of a song, “Our Bleeding Hearts”. Beginning with a simple piano line and a lonely xylophone, it’s graceful and academic. Drums roll in, followed by a stately string section. Lead singer Rachel Stolte’s voice -- understated, yet confident -- easily carries the song. “Our Bleeding Hearts” is distant, lonesome, and reassuring all at once. It makes the Great Northern seem like the female answer to Coldplay.

Holistically speaking, “Our Bleeding Hearts” could easily close an album. It could sit in the middle of an album of upbeat rock, an introspective digression. Or, as in Trading Twilight for Daylight, it could serve as an aperitif, the graceful beginning to a long feast of confident songs.

The first half of the album continues this trend: It’s full of long, precise, epic songs that seem equally fit to open or close an album. These songs each boast three or four good musical ideas. They’re anachronistic in tone, using chord structures and musical tropes from the last decade. The songs -- “Our Bleeding Hearts”, “Just a Dream”, “Home”, and “Telling Lies” -- seem cut from the same cloth as hit-makers Garbage, Texas, and Curve.

“Just a Dream”, for instance, revolves around an ascending bass line and a fuzzy alternarock guitar line. Strong male backing vocals from Solon Bixler supplement Stolte’s vivid strains. A basic minor-chord piano line creates a maudlin backdrop. One gets halfway through the song before realizing that none of it is particularly new. “Just a Dream” could have charted. It could easily have fit on a big-budget action movie soundtrack alongside Guns and Roses’ “Don’t Cry”.

“Home” and “Telling Lies” borrow much from the same era. By themselves, either could have been a hit. Together, they feel uninspired. Meanwhile, the next two songs -- “Low Is a Height” and “City of Sleep” -- are drawn out and sluggish. The album doesn’t truly become interesting until its seventh track, “A Sun a Sound”.

“A Sun a Sound” is also the only album track that seems to carry on the legacy of the Ship -- the studio graced by Grandaddy and Earlimart, where the members of the Great Northern came together. Both orchestral and synthesized, the song features Bixler taking on lead vocal duties. “A Sun a Sound” could have been a B-side from The Sophtware Slump, but it maintains enough of the Great Northern’s punchy footprint to be a truly novel song.

Likewise, “The Middle” is a sure surprise. It uses a formula familiar to fans of the New Pornographers: It’s composed largely of call-and-response between Bixler and Stolte. Bixler’s vocals ride a jaunty power pop line, while Stolte’s parts are measured and ethereal. A late favorite at track nine, it has a good mix-tape-ability about it.

One could make the argument that the major flaw of the Great Northern’s debut is tracking: The most exciting songs don’t appear until the album’s almost over. By that time, the listener has slogged through four epics and two sleepers. Trading Twilight for Daylight could be the beginning of an excellent career. But as a first album, it feels too much like a retrospective: It has a lot to say about where it’s been, and very little about where it’s going.

6
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Street Art As Sprayed Solidarity: Global Corona Graffiti

COVID-19-related street art functions as a vehicle for political critique and social engagement. It offers a form of global solidarity in a time of crisis.

Music

Gretchen Peters Honors Mickey Newbury With "The Sailor" and New Album (premiere + interview)

Gretchen Peters' latest album, The Night You Wrote That Song: The Songs of Mickey Newbury, celebrates one of American songwriting's most underappreciated artists. Hear Peters' new single "The Sailor" as she talks about her latest project.

Music

Okkyung Lee Goes From Classical to Noise on the Stellar 'Yeo-Neun'

Cellist Okkyung Lee walks a fine line between classical and noise on the splendid, minimalist excursion Yeo-Neun.

Film

Alastair Sim: A Very English Character Actor Genius

Alastair Sim belongs to those character actors sometimes accused of "hamming it up" because they work at such a high level of internal and external technique that they can't help standing out.

Music

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith's New LP Is Lacking in Songcraft but Rich in Texture

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith's The Mosaic of Transformation is a slightly uneven listen. It generally transcends the tropes of its genre, but occasionally substitutes substance for style.

Music

Buzzcocks' 1996 Album 'All Set' Sees the Veteran Band Stretching Out and Gaining Confidence

After the straightforward and workmanlike Trade Test Transmissions, Buzzcocks continued to hone their fresh identity in the studio, as exhibited on the All Set reissue contained on the new box-set Sell You Everything.

Books

Patrick Madden's 'Disparates' Makes Sense in These Crazy Times

There's no social distancing with Patrick Madden's hilarious Disparates. While reading these essays, you'll feel like he's in the room with you.

Music

Perfume Genius Purges Himself and It's Contagious

You need to care so much about your art to pack this much meaning into not only the words, but the tones that adorn and deliver them. Perfume Genius cares so much it hurts on Set My Heart on Fire Immediately.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Confinement and Escape: Emma Donoghue and E.L. Doctorow in Our Time of Self-Isolation

Emma Donoghue's Room and E.L. Doctorow's Homer & Langley define and confront life within limited space.

Books

Political Cartoonist Art Young Was an Aficionado of all Things Infernal

Fantagraphics' new edition of Inferno takes Art Young's original Depression-era critique to the Trump White House -- and then drags it all to Hell.

Music

Folk's Jason Wilber Examines the World Through a Futurist Lens in 'Time Traveler' (album stream)

John Prine's former guitarist and musical director, Jason Wilber steps out with a new album, Time Traveler, featuring irreverent, pensive, and worldly folk music.

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.