Banner Pilot - Heart Beats Pacific
Record Label: Fat Wreck Chords
Release Date: October 25, 2011
I’ve followed Banner Pilot’s career with casual interest, but I have to admit that this band’s 2009 record, Collapser, might have changed a lot more for me than I give it credit for. I was in middle school when New Found Glory and Yellowcard were on MTV and I was in the eighth grade when Green Day released American Idiot. I didn’t grow up buying Descendents or Latterman records, and I’m not really sad about that or anything…it just meant I had a lot of required listening to do when I found out there was a shit ton of excellent music I was missing out on. Collapser was one of the records that gave me a bridge to “real” punk rock, as backwards as that may seem. I do owe this band more than I like to admit.
Banner Pilot is really just the latest in a long line of bands on Fat Wreck playing the type of music that Fat Wreck puts out, but I’ve never heard anyone complain about that before. As similar as Heart Beats Pacific is to Collapser, it’s not predictable in a bad way. Heart Beats Pacific serves as concrete proof that Banner Pilot is a band every punk fan needs to become familiar with quickly, if they haven’t already obsessed over the group.
One thing Heart Beats Pacific does extraordinarily well is tighten up areas where Collapser faltered. The production is better by leaps and bounds, providing the precise amount of touch-up to separate Nate Gangelhoff’s brilliant bass lines and the more memorable guitar riffs, but not doing so much that Nick Johnson’s vocals are overwhelmed. Johnson’s lyrics explore more or less expected subjects for a Midwestern punk record; more than your fair share of growing tired of the place you grew up in, drinking, missing people, feeling down, etc.
Johnson’s lyrics do well to give off a lot of imagery. When you’re singing about stuff that everyone has already heard Dear Landlord and everybody else sing about, it’s important to stick out of the pack somehow. While a lot of it describes the grey and wintry despairs of living in the Midwest, at least I can actually begin to feel the shittiness after a few repeat listens.
Where Banner Pilot shines is when Johnson’s bratty vocals meet up with explosive guitar riffs for memorable choruses. “Forty Degrees” and “Spanish Reds” fill this void near the beginning of the record; “Western Terminal” does it again near the end. There isn’t much here that most haven’t heard before, so listeners will just have to appreciate how well Banner Pilot can execute your muted power chord verses and bass-centric rhythms. If that can’t be appreciated to the extent it should, what you’re left with is a Heart Beats Pacific record that repeats itself a few times. Some changes in tempo or structure would have done the record a lot of good in holistic flow terms, but I’m just going to be listening to it over a beer in the end. And it’s a fantastic record to listen to, if you’re drinking a beer or a whiskey drink or looking for a good way to spend 35 minutes or so. There are lots of worse things you can do with a half hour than listen to this album.
A big problem with new-school pop-punk bands is that they try to reinvent themselves on every album. We saw it happen a lot in 2011. As long as Banner Pilot is playing this driven and purely enjoyable blend of your old-school, punk-first, pop-second pop-punk, I don’t mind it if they don’t change things up too much. Three full-length records into their career, Banner Pilot has done nothing but provide batches of songs to sing along to, and even if they’re not doing anything new, at least they’re copying the old stuff the right way.