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

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.


Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and Woodstock each did their stint as a lonely Mexican cowboy, it seems. These and other things you didn't know about A Charlie Brown Christmas.

How Would You Like to Be the Director of Our Christmas Play?

It's really a beautiful little movie and has affected my life in numerous ways. For years, especially when we were poor, we always tried to find the littlest saddest Christmas tree possible. In fact, my son Eli has a Christmas tree set up right now that is just one single branch propped up in a juice bottle. And just a couple weeks ago we were at a wedding, everyone was dancing, and me and my wife Amy and my friend Garth started dancing like the Peanuts characters do in the Christmas special. -- Comic artist James Kochalka.

Bill Melendez answers questions with the sort of vigor that men a third his age invest thousands in herbal supplements to achieve. He punctuates his speech with belly chuckles and comic strip taglines like "Oh, boy!" and "I tell 'ya!" With the reckless abandon that Melendez tosses out words like pleasure, it's clear that 41 years after its premiere, A Charlie Brown Christmas remains one of his favorite topics of conversation. "It changed my life," he states simply, "being involved with this silly little project."

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

Keep reading... Show less

Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.