Review Summary: A sweeping, magnificent indie dream.
When Solon Bixler was frantically strumming punk-rock chords for 30 Seconds to Mars, creating an album like Trading Twilight for Daylight
was likely the farthest thing from his mind. After all, the music that Great Northern composes is on the far opposite end of the musical spectrum – whereas 30 Seconds to Mars is fast and frenzied, Great Northern is immense, enduring, and picturesque. We’ve seen this story before; the immature, fame-seeking ego exchanges the pomp and frills for artistic worth and personal meaning. Sometimes, these good intentions go awry (ahem, Tom Delonge) but sometimes they result in an experience that is beyond words…and Trading Twilight for Daylight
is likely to render you speechless.
Great Northern began in 2005 when Solon Bixler approached longtime friend Rachel Stolte and asked her to sing and play the piano on some of his independent works. The pair spent about six months writing material before they finally entered the studio, while obtaining Davey Latter to man the drums and Ashley Dzerigian to play bass. In 2007, the newly formed quartet released a debut that is more atmospheric and humble than anything the members could have imagined recording. The sudden genre transition seemed to yield outstanding results, as the vocal harmonies between Bixler and Stolte on Trading Twilight for Daylight
are absolutely breathtaking. Stolte’s talents on the keyboard are also utilized to the maximum extent, and they are often the driving force behind each song’s gradual development and subsequent unraveling. Ebb and flow progression dominates the album, as the whole thing creates an experience akin to being tossed about on the crests of gently colliding ocean waves. “Just a Dream” most easily depicts this metaphor, with a drum and synth heavy introduction that gives way to a light bassline accompanied by a mood-setting classical piano.
Then it happens.
The one thing that puts Trading Twilight for Daylight
in a league of its own enters the picture in the form of an angelic duet between Solon Bixler and Rachel Stolte, as they mezmerize the listener with the line, “Was I dreamin’…Was I awake? Or did you come home today…
.” The song’s charming introduction is followed by an explosion of synthesizers, strings, and a hauntingly emotional chorus before settling back into tranquility. On the second run through of the chorus, Bixler even adds in a tastefully restrained electric guitar riff that add to the song’s intensity and speak volumes about his maturation. “Home” is another standout track that really depicts the feeling of floating about
carelessly. Here, Stolte is absolute ear candy. Her melody in both the verse and the chorus is astounding, and the trade-offs between her and Bixler once again make for a moment of jaw-dropping ambiance. Nearly every track contributes to the atmosphere of Trading Twilight for Daylight
. It is remarkably consistent in terms of vocal and instrumental quality, and the flow is impeccable.
The previously mentioned ebb and flow production isn’t the only style that Great Northern is able to so effortlessly craft. There are also moments of pensive, borderline brooding
balladry. “City of Sleep” is as close as one might come to being mentally and spiritually removed from this world. Stolte’s vocals are breathy, but still soothing. Gentle piano notes stand in the forefront, while a sound graces the background that is reminiscent of boat oars gently splitting the surface of a still pond. All the while, Rachel’s calming chants of “Come with me to that place where we remember what to be…follow me…
” lull the listener into a daze. The closing track “Winter” is another prime example, with high key piano notes that manage to truly illustrate
winter and make you feel like you are walking the streets of a village during Christmastime, frigidly crossing your arms and glancing curiously at the string of icicles hanging from each rooftop. Once again, Stolte’s vocals will draw the majority of your attention, although hopefully not to the extent that it distracts you from the wealth of instrumental beauty surrounding her voice. Trading Twilight for Daylight
continues in this manner, inventing a new tone or feeling to go along with each song. The most beautiful thing, however, is how all of those musical environments coexist to make Great Northern’s debut an undeniably engaging collage of atmospheres.
One would be hard-pressed to find an album that is as soothing, memorable, and exciting as Trading Twilight for Daylight
. It is an essential indie album in just about every aspect, and it rarely (if ever) falters into recycled ideas or trends. The record is all-encompassing; from the basically perfect vocal combination of Bixler and Stolte to the restrained, yet free-flowing instrumentals and overall production. Trading Twilight for Daylight
feels like a dream…and to me, that dream is a very good one.