Trading Twilight for Daylight
ot to be confused with The Great Northern, of course, which is (it says here) “Manchester’s most exciting leisure and shopping development.” If they’d released an album it would have featured tracks like “Fastest Growing Premium Furniture Retailer” and “Aspirational, Up-market, and Totally Funky,” based on extended remixes of PowerPoint jingles filtered through Windows start-up noises. And no matter how hard you might want to twist that into sounding cool or exciting, it would have just been crap. Sorry.
Luckily, this Great Northern have precious little to do with urban regeneration in the north of England. In fact, the band are from an altogether different continent, climate, and culture: Los Angeles. One of them (vocals/guitar, band role fans) is named Solon Bixler; which is pretty much the best moniker you’re likely to find outside of a Frank Herbert novel.
Sound-wise, they could be pitching for an appearance in the final season of “Scrubs,” which is probably enough to induce a spontaneous “hurrah/bah” reaction from most. “Home,” with its pleasing male-verse-female-chorus division of vocal labor and cheery strings, could conceivably linger behind a montage of JD hugging whichever attractive co-star has inexplicably been written into his love-life. Conversely, closing number “Babies” would definitely have to play over one of the program’s weepier conclusions. The stumbling beat could mimic an exhausted character’s lonely plod down a deserted hospital corridor, as harmonious “oooh”-ing and finger-picked guitar provide a soft backdrop to some dubious voiceover philosophizing—probably along the lines of: “The thing about friends is, the closer you get to them, the further away they can seem. But in the end, distance can be the closest friend you’ll ever need.” Mm, wise words indeed. But enough about harebrained medical sitcoms.
Great Northern are a talented group, sitting happily in the comfort zone of indie-pop, or dream-rock, or another shorthand phrase which can stand in for “guitar-keyboard-bass-drums combo, pairing lovely, chiming melodies with rather more depressing words.” Not everyone can be redefining genres and making majestic strides into new areas of sound, and there’s no disgrace in trying to improve upon an established formula. No-one is likely to shoot their eyebrows to the sky in astonishment at, say, the use of xylophone on this album, but many will be thinking “hey, those are some nice touches of xylophone there.” Contentment, rather than excitement, is the dominant vibe.
Which is not to suggest that everything is simply lukewarm and ho-hum. There’s a wonderfully relaxed feel to the record, making it the audio equivalent of settling down with a favorite drink in a familiar chair and letting your shoulders slide away from the ear-grazing position they’d crept up to during the day. Rachel Stolte’s enveloping vocals (close enough to being ever-present) cast a soothing, restful glow, echoing the hazily dimming rays of a flagging sun as it finally succumbs below the treetops. This intangible period of fading light and the numbness of weary muscles are captured throughout the album—to the extent that it could justifiably have been named Trading Twilight for Even More Twilight, as the promise of daybreak never really arrives.
But that’s arguably no bad thing.