If Remind Me Where the Light Is is any indication, in the battle between sonic ambition and career ambition, Great Northern has taken sides with the latter camp. The L.A.-based four-piece’s LP is filled with brand-new songs that you’ll vaguely recognize. And that’s the problem: It’s hard to identify exactly what’s special about an album that sounds so uncannily like so much other music.
There’s something to be said for giving the people what they want — or at least, what they already know. Great Northern does that here without wholly buffing down all their edges. The disc’s opener, “Story,” is slightly dreamy, with Rachel Stolte’s lovely vocals alternately moving from urgent to soaring against a lush backdrop of bells and guitars. “Fingers” begins as a sparse, hushed, noir lament and builds to a catchy, and very nearly orchestral, variant on pop. “Stop,” softly sung by guitarist/vocalist Solon Bixler, is a cross between a lullaby and dirge. “Mountain,” meanwhile, feels and sounds epic and expansive in every single way, with drummer Davey Latter and bassist Ashley Dzerigian contributing heavily to the song’s wall of sound. Clearly, this is a band of talented musicians with the skills to write grandiose songs.
But this is an album that’s extremely clean — the spic-and-span sonics might be the work of producer Michael Patterson (Beck, Puff Daddy, She Wants Revenge). Even if it might help Great Northern achieve some broader success, all that cleansing has buffed away much of the band’s character. Add to that the radio-friendly songwriting and Remind Me Where the Light Is starts to seem like an album designed not to offend or even surprise.