An overblown self-importance runs through When We Break, Criteria’s second full-length. But where their more famous Omaha labelmates often temper lyrically heavy songs with sparse and nuanced instrumentation, the members of Criteria (including Stephen Peterson of the White Octave, A.J. Mogis of Bright Eyes and Lullaby for the Working Class, Mike Sweeny of Beep Beep, and Aaron Druery) attack each song with arena-sized intensity that’s more All-American Rejects or Jimmy Eat World than anything even faintly folky, indie, or Midwestern.
When they fail, as they boldly do on “Kiss the Wake” and “Grey Matter,” Pedersen’s strained, save-the-world confessional lyrics are hard to get past. But songs such as “Ride the Snake” and “Good Luck,” with its earnest plea (“I’m out of luck/ Are you the same way?”), show a highly polished guitar sound and pop sense that’s not groundbreaking but would be at the top of the game on any modern rock station.