It’s hard to get hopped up about a band as deliberate as Great Northern. Calcified arrangements and slow paces, the band’s stock in trade, surely aren’t natural stimulants. So what is it that fashioned Great Northern into darlings of the Silver Lake indie-rock mill in early 2007, around the time they rolled out of bed with their debut full-length, Trading Twilight for Daylight? My money’s on the band’s surface prettiness and valiant approximation of depth, both of which are found in abundance on the iTunes exclusive, Sleepy Eepee.
The five songs on this EP, available until now only at live shows, represent Great Northern’s pre-Trading Twilight for Daylight material. And although Sleepy Eepee deploys the acoustic guitars, power-buzz keyboards and sleigh bells that make up the band’s sonic stamp, it feels formative. Great Northern was still figuring out how to balance eclectic instrumentation with the needs of a song — the theremin and dulcimer on “Loose Ends” feel a little cutesy for its majestic climax. And co-leader Solon Bixler (once a guitarist for 30 Seconds to Mars) rips Wayne Coyne’s yowl on “This Is a Problem,” a tendency he would shake by the much-improved full-length.
More problematic is that, with the exception of the immaculate “Summertime,” the songs on the Sleepy Eepee just aren’t that great. Rachel Stolte’s full-bodied alto deserves better than the flaccid melodies on “Radio”; whirligig synth sounds can’t cover up for a lack of momentum in “Shakey.” The band members also get stuck in a slow-burn rut throughout, as if they tried to make every song a churning, climactic album-ender and in the process evaporated any sense of urgency.