Banner Pilot’s ‘Heart’ Songs
Snowfall, the Midwest and disappointment, these are the themes of Banner Pilot’s third LP, “Heart Beats Pacific” (Fat Wreck Chords), a gruff and melodic pop-punk romp across the lonely landscapes of a Minneapolis winter with a half-empty bottle of whiskey in hand. As with their last outing, 2009’s “Collapser,” there are few surprises to be found. The album’s 11 songs synthesize the band’s influences nicely, with Jawbreaker (we dare you to find a review of this band that doesn’t mention them), the Alkaline Trio and Lawrence Arms coming through loudest, and singer-guitarist Nick Johnson’s sandpaper vocals on top of a dual-guitar blast. Predictable? Sure, but also really solid. “Heart Beats Pacific” is the sound of a band hitting their stride.
Much of the album is filled with songs about relationship woes, like “Alchemy,” the album’s roaring opener. “I’ll say everything’ll work out,” Johnson sings, “Like I know what I’m talking about. But all this snow keeps piling up. We dig, it’s never deep enough.” The band is adept at capturing the cold and lonely isolation that a Midwest winter can bring, and disenchantment cuts a straight line through the album’s lyrics, though there are some bright spots too. On “Spanish Reds,” the album’s best track, our narrator finds some silver lining thanks to some time spent with his favorite girl: “I watch you fall asleep on a dead end street and the world is right somehow.”
The band cites Screeching Weasel and the Queers as influences, and though Banner Pilot aren’t practitioners of Ramones-core, they do borrow from the aforementioned bands. For starters, there aren’t any guitar solos, but the album has ample guitar leads, single-string Ben Weasel-style licks that help to add some color and break up all the furious strumming. Also like those bands, Banner Pilot sticks with a formula that works for them, never veering far off course. This causes the album to drag a bit as it winds its way into side two, but the record closes out strong with “Division Street,” a mid-tempo pop-punk love song that ends the record on a high, which is where Johnson is at too. “If I’ve had better days,” he offers, “Then they’re hard to remember.”
Somewhere over the course of the last ten years, the bands who extrapolated a sound made famous by Jawbreaker, a west coast band, have reclaimed the style as Midwestern punk. Banner Pilot, a band from Minneapolis, is a prime example of the sound, which is also favored by Dillinger Four, The Lawrence Arms and probably plenty of other bands who aren’t on Fat Wreck Chords. But one of the things that made Jawbreaker great was their ability to experiment. “Dear You” may have signaled the beginning of the end for the band, but it was a stylistic departure and a bold move, one that Banner Pilot should take note of. It’s risky, of course, to wander too far from home, but it’d also be nice to read a Banner Pilot review that didn’t reference Jawbreaker in the first paragraph. “Heart Beats Pacific” stands firm in its mission, and Banner Pilot have established themselves as one of the Midwest most promising bands, but as they continue to evolve, we hope they’ll also begin to challenge themselves as songwriters. Jawbreaker didn’t make the leap until LP number four. And since this is number three for Banner Pilot, we’ll let them slide — for now.