On Souvenir, Banner Pilot carries the torch once held by fellow Minneapolis residents Dillinger Four. Much of modern pop-punk leans toward songs bursting with singable hooks, but like their Midwestern peers, Banner Pilot isn’t preoccupied with the genre’s cleaner side. Souvenir evokes the genre’s legends, musically, and it’s a terrific record about growing up and clinging to special people.
The album’s vocals are slightly lower in the mix than on 2011’s Heart Beats Pacific, but they’re not buried. Instead, the production strikes a balance that’s fair enough to afford all of its components equal weight. Here, Nate Gangelhoff’s beefy bass lines carry the record as much as singer Nick Johnson’s gritty cadences.
Souvenir is full of weary sentiment, and the album is essentially a spiritual successor to Heart Beats Pacific. Stories of waiting out dreary Midwestern winters are revisited here, with equal amounts of nostalgia. Seemingly inspired by lonesome drinking sessions, Souvenir is set in an isolated bedroom with sunlight peeking through curtains. The album’s title, meanwhile, is less indicative of exciting travels and more an ironic symbol of detachment.
On “Modern Shakes,” Johnson pines for the absent buddy who “saw through the stop signs.” The song is heartfelt and bittersweet; Johnson wishes his out-of-touch friend good luck in reaching an unknown destination, but he acknowledges that he himself is stuck. Banner Pilot isn’t the first band to write about dead-ends, but they strike a chord here and throughout Souvenir. “Letterbox” — with its bouncing guitar chords and striking chorus — will surely resonate with unfulfilled adults. And on the feel-good “Summer Ash,” when Johnson’s encouraging, “Hold on to me. I rely on you, you know,” it’s easy to feel as though Banner Pilot are relating to their own 20-something and 30-something year-old fans.
Souvenir isn’t fundamentally different from Banner Pilot’s previous work. The album doesn’t shatter any of the genre’s conventions, and it wears its Midwestern influences on its sleeve. Regardless, Souvenir is meaningful and genuine, and it further establishes Banner Pilot as one of Minneapolis’s best active punk rock bands.
Review by Anthony Glaser