L.A. must be suffering from severe growing pains. The better part of the past decade has seen the emergence of such independent acts as Silversun Pickups, Rilo Kiley, Irving, Earlimart, Lavender Diamond…the list goes on. What do they all have in common, you ask? Well, not a whole lot, except for a hard-working ethic, and maybe that whole location thing. In fact the competition has never seemed so stiff, but you can add one more band to the burgeoning scene. Great Northern is yet another addition to that whole synth-injected, male-female vocal dynamic that critics can’t seem to get enough of.
Headlights seems an appropriate starting place for comparison, as lead singer Rachel Stolte combines with guitarist/beau Solon Bixler for some pretty harmonies and a rather comforting aesthetic. Each song is a miniature symphony of crashing synths, divergent vocals caterwauling dreamy refrains, and ebullient choruses. The lofty grandeur of Grandaddy is recalled on more than one occasion. This is not to say there isn’t a certain originality apparent in the ambitious Trading Twilight For Daylight, but it is rather like the latest in a proud line of kitschy electronic fortes into the upper realms of pop majesty.
When the center will not hold, a new band has no choice but to head for the fringe. Of course, this is the fringe via the spotlight. We are talking about Los Angeles, after all. There seems to be a very deliberate attempt on the part of the band to assure each track here has an obvious and predictable trajectory: build slowly to the crescendo, leave the listener desperate and craving for the denouement, and finally relieved at the impending fade-out. “Telling Lies” is the stand-out single among its soaring brethren, a great big dollop of glimmering boy-girl vocal indulgence sprinkled with wavering synthesizer flourishes and crunchy guitars.
“Low Is A Height” is the mandatory Postal Service nod, an electronic-influenced exercise in atmospheric revelry. But that still doesn’t stop it from being a fine tune in itself. Somber “City of Sleep ” delivers on its titular promise, while “Into The Sun” shreds and handclaps itself into a fuzzy rock-throwback oblivion over a repeated chorus of “it’s just like staring into the sun.” Just when you think it’s fading, in sweep the sleigh bells and acoustic guitar to prolong the (near) magic. “Our Bleeding Hearts” is a genuine highlight, with the simplicity of a chiming glockenspiel and ever more percussive in-fill making excellent bedfellows with the strings and electric guitar squall.
If there is anything to complain about on Trading Twilight For Daylight, it’s that it’s too conceived, too well planned, and too aware of the niche it’s seeking to fill. If Stolte and Bixler can take a few cues from their fellow Los Angelenos, they’ve got a great album in them just waiting to burst out, if it’s not stuck in gridlock.