|Album Rating: B|
At their core, Signals Midwest is a pop punk band, but don’t let that fool you, because there are certain (often unwelcomed) modern connotations associated with the genre that don’t necessary apply to the band. In fact, it may be a bit more accurate to define Signals Midwest as a “multi-generational” pop punk band—one whose music spans the waves and trends of decades worth of material released by countless different bands, all of which is conveniently grouped under the umbrella of our favorite nebulous label: pop punk.
The band reminds me of Rufio, at times, with their quick guitar harmonies which sneak into the verses and choruses, but of course, this shredding and riffage on Light on the Lake doesn’t really seek to rival anything that Rufio ever released. It’s merely just another aspect of Signals Midwest’s consistently surprising style. Elements of Listen and Forgive-era Transit pop up, like in “Caricature,” with well-placed hammer ons and pull offs, and the conclusion of “Lowercase” sounds like something straight off of a Dear Landlord record. I hear some Saves the Day influence in the heavy, indie chords bookending “In the Pauses,” and the ridiculously catchy conclusion to “St. Vincent Charity” recalls some of the finest moments of 2000s pop punk glory. To put it simply, absolutely any fan of alternative punk music in the past 20 years will find something to like on this record.
Interestingly, where Signals Midwest sounds most like their own band is on the more experimental tracks, like acoustic offering "Greater Plains." While yes, vocalist Max Stern's lyrics are deeply personal throughout the album, they resonate the most when the songs aren’t extremely comparable to other bands. “An Echo, A Strain” is an unlikely star, beginning with a lone guitar and tired voice that laments leaving a party because he “couldn't keep it together.” The track slowly swells for three minutes until it erupts into a huge, powerful section of gang vocals and heavy drumming. The interesting repetition of lyrical themes, such as the closing lines of Light on the Lake, "Are we reflections, the next in succession," also works to set the band apart from their many peers.
Moving forward, the biggest hurdle facing Signals Midwest will be their lack of a clear identity, which is something they are still developing. It’s nearly impossible to talk about the band without discussing the oceans of other artists from whom their sound derives, and most of these other bands played their respective styles a bit better back in the day than Signals Midwest does now. That’s not because these Cleveland boys aren’t talented, but rather, because they attempt to perform so many different incarnations of pop punk within a 40-minute time frame, they don’t ever really exceed or excel in any of them. The lack of focus results in a pretty good output of many different things, as opposed to a strong output from one cohesive specialty. Don’t get me wrong—I enjoyed this record greatly, but I don’t think Signals Midwest has quite reached their peak yet with Light on the Lake. A large appeal of this band is their well-intentioned combinations of genres and styles, but in the end, all I really wanted them to do was pick one sound and excel with it. This band will certainly be the next in succession in punk rock, but I think they can be far more than just a reflection.
2. In the Pauses
3. A Room Once Called Yours
4. St. Vincent Charity
5. The Desert to Denver
6. An Echo, A Strain
8. San Anselmo
10. Greater Plains
11. The Things that Keep Us Whole
12. A Glowing Light, An Impending Dawn