Review Summary: It's an album, and it's by Banner Pilot. Which means it's damn good.
‘If you’re happy then why change?’
A lyric taken from Banner Pilot’s previous album "Collapser", the band seem to have taken it to heart; "Heart Beats Pacific" is everything you have come to expect from this Minnesota quartet. It’s full of gritty pop punk ditties with poetic lyricism weaved over simplistic yet catchy riffs. There’s no being complicated and technical for the sake of being complicated and technical; this is down-to-earth, straight-to-the-point punk, the kind that Banner Pilot have nigh on perfected.
The most obvious place to start with Banner Pilot is always the lyrics, an aspect that sets the group apart from many of their contemporaries. Thematically we are on familiar ground, with topics including drinking and driving (not at the same time though, don’t you worry). Nature also rears its head on several occasions; the climax of "Alchemy" is poignantly delivered: ‘I know when you’re living under sheets of snow it can look like the world’s gone black/ But remember that the sun comes back/ At least they say it does’.
It would be sweeping and generalising to say that Banner Pilot have simply remade and released 'Collapser' under a different name, so let’s not say that. For starters, the concluding track "Division Street" has a running time of over 5 minutes. Yes, it’s a Banner Pilot song! And it’s over 5 minutes long! Outrageous. Admittedly it could be argued that it overstays its welcome somewhat, but the chorus is pure emotional gold. "Isolani" opens with a very untypical Banner Pilot riff, and is one of the highlights of the album. The choruses are unsurprisingly memorable throughout, with the catchiest chorus coming within the opening 30 seconds of the opening track. In fact, "Alchemy" is such a barnstorming opener that it somewhat overshadows the succeeding "Forty Degrees" and "Red Line". But the instant classic "Spanish Reds" follows and sets up a run of tracks that are amongst the best that the band have written. There is more variation to be found in the vocal delivery with Nick Johnson adopting a lower pitch at times, most prominently in the aforementioned "Spanish Reds".
But the vocals can also be quibbled upon. I never thought I’d find overproduction to be fault in a Banner Pilot album, and yet here we are; the album is somewhat overproduced. The band has been endearing in the past for playing unabashedly gruff and rough yet catchy pop punk, so it’s disappointing to find "Heart Beats Pacific" suffering from vocals that at times are too slick, too sickly. It doesn’t ruin the listening experience, not by a long way, but it does prevent some songs from reaching their full potential.
Importantly though, it doesn’t stop "Heart Beats Pacific" from being one of the best albums of 2011. If you’ve heard Banner Pilot before, then you know what to expect regarding the sound and its quality. If you haven’t heard Banner Pilot before, then what are you waiting for?