It took the second run-through on the turntable to notice it, but Signals Midwest frontman Maxwell Stern sounds a lot like Bomb the Music Industry’s Jeff Rosenstock. If I remember correctly, I really liked their last album, but this one kind of refuses to stick in my mind.
The guitar solo on “In the Pauses” grabs your attention first and foremost, if you’re not a BTMI fan. It’s one of the few moments Light On the Lake‘s first side that doesn’t work in the loud-quiet-loud dynamic that’s become almost de rigeur for punk bands these days — quiet spoken parts, then big anthemic choruses.
It’s great for singing along and fist-pumping, but the fact that Signals Midwest actually do more guitar-wise than just strumming or rocking power chords gets lost in these songs that are, honestly, more like pieces from a Broadway musical than rock ‘n’ roll.
All of the songs follow that musical theater paradigm and pattern so closely, it’s only when you get a ripping solo (see also: “St. Vincent Charity”) that the songs do more than work toward a chorus. “An Echo, A Strain” manages to subvert everything by doing so instrumentally, rather than vocally, which is nice, because it finally gets the album into something more than rock by numbers.
The second side, from “Lowercase” onward, works as a real rock record, building the songs to something more than sing-along choruses. At times, you get these screams and yells like the “NOOOOOOOO!” at the end of “San Anselmo,” which packs quite a punch.
So, while Light On the Lake takes a bit to get going, once it opens up, Signals Midwest demonstrate that they can do more than just standard anthems by the numbers. Be patient, and stay with this record, and you’ll find yourself enjoying it more than you thought possible.
With the packing for Light On the Lake, Tiny Engines has knocked it out of the park yet again. Foil accents and matte finish on the jacket, purple marble vinyl, and a lyric sheet insert. Not super-fancy, but nice and quality to indicate that this is a release that means something.
Light On the Lake is available from the Tiny Engines store on “Light” (Opaque Orange), limited to 175, 200 on “Lake” (Opaque Navy Blue), and 250 Clear. The 125 “Sludge” (White with Green & Black Starburst) are sold out.