Summer People is a new-ish band from the Binghamton/Syracuse area of New York, with members of Fire When Ready, Mysterious Mysteries and the Trip Wilsons. In some ways, their second release and first full-length, Good Problems takes from the styles of each of their previous efforts: melodic punk rock; ambient indie folk; and psychedelic rock 'n’ roll, respectively. But ultimately, their sound is something new and fresh for both its members and their fans.
First up is “Two Hearted River,” a folk sing-along that's a bit moody but with lots of cheering and group vocals going on. This atmosphere is soon replaced by the melancholic urgency of the next track, “Shallow Water People.” A definite standout of the album and my personal favourite, this song seems to be Summer People at their most focused. With vocal work sort of resembling that of the late, great Bear vs. Shark, percussion that recalls the end of Hot Water Music’s “Hit and Miss” and wonderful, warm guitar work throughout, it just kicks some serious ass.
The next song, “Broken Bones” is a loud and intense but very fun rock 'n’ roller that sounds like Colour Revolt would if they embraced their inner hillbilly. After this we break on through to “The Other Side,” which returns to the laid-back sound of the album’s opener for perhaps a nice break from all the rockin’. Song number five, “For Giving In” is a welcome surprise, being the first to incorporate the dreamy post-rock sound that makes up most of the last half of the album. It’s followed up by the 50-second-long title track, with cool lyrics and kind of a ‘Tim Barry over noisy rock’ thing going on. Ending the first chunk of the record is “Glossy-Eyed,” another favourite of mine that brings together all the styles shown so far in a nice package.
At this point is where Good Problems might begin to lose people. In the middle of the album sits a 9:41-long instrumental post-rock track that, while appreciated for what it is, is probably going to be skipped by a lot of listeners after the first time through...it just doesn't really go anywhere. Next up is “Balcony,” a good but not great song still dwelling on the post-rock side of things but with vocals, followed by an instrumental track much shorter than that other one and more interesting to listen to. Then comes my personal third favourite song on the album, “Great Northern Driver,” which like “Glossy-Eyed” shows off a lot of what Summer People is about all at once. Next we have our first surprise in a while and final one at that, “Two Truths,” which consists of a first half that kind of reminds me of U2 (but probably shouldn't) and an explosive instrumental second half. And finally there is “Curtained Rain,” a short, dreamy male/female duet with synthesized or sampled sounds swirling around some acoustic strumming, closing out the album nicely.
All in all, Summer People’s debut full-length is an interesting and varied listen, despite the inclusion of an almost 10-minute-long interlude and the last half of the album kind of blending together. Part of me hopes their next effort is more focused and sounds more like the louder tracks overall, but another part appreciates the band’s ability to traverse so many different landscapes, as parts of the more post-rock songs are really great. I think they definitely had it right with the way the first half was set up, so maybe if they maintain that frequency of style-jumping throughout their followup, they will release an even better album the next time around.