Sticky with riot grrl attitude, Great Northern’s music nevertheless crackles dimly and inexpressively, strangely casting the reflected shadows of arena and mainstream ‘90s rock. Framed within these inherent failings, and always bittersweet, the band’s pleasures are actually sizable for the kind of weirdly stilted sound in which Great Northern traps itself. That bittersweet quality stems from the fact that for every ringing positive, there’s an equally appalling downside. The production on their sophomore effort, Remind Me Where the Light Is, is both a blessing and a curse, inflating some effects to dazzling prominence while pushing a host of crummy, outdated ideas to the forefront. This gives the impression of a band at the mercy of its audio engineers, its sound so light and pliable that it can be spread distressingly thin or concentrated, however briefly, into something remarkable. While this allows for some great moments, it also begets a maddening inconsistency.
On album opener “Story,” Rachel Stolte’s faux-tough vocals share an unfortunate repartee with guitarist Solon Bixler’s hackneyed “What do you want/What do you need” backing line. This is followed by “Houses,” which opens with more wan posturing, this time in the form of a drab acoustic stomp reminiscent of the Kills, themselves not the best model for a convincing bad-girl routine, and lapsing into busy insignificance with a slew of flashy guitar solos. This mood continues, yet there are enough places where Light shows flashes of brilliance to suggest that somewhere beneath the tacky front of badass rock-star fakery and gaudy effects hides the fragments of potentially better songs. Even these moments seem infected with an air of calculation (the album is surprisingly overproduced for an indie release), but there are isolated moments of resplendency. From the sweeping intro of “Snakes” to the dreamy murmur of “New Tricks,” these touches establish Great Northern as a band capable of reaching great heights—if only their producer were willing to take them there.