The old stereotype about punk-rock is true. Anyone can pick up a guitar, a case of beer, and spit out a record with a few buddies. Unfortunately for the genre, not anyone can write Heart Beats Pacific. Expanding on everything they did right with 2009′s Collapser, Banner Pilot have honed their craft and put out a followup that should, for all intensive purposes, be considered a new standard by which punk records are measured.
More than just 40 minutes of power chords and raspy vocals, Heart Beats Pacific is every night that has ever devolved into too much alcohol and too many confessions. It’s a journal with entries in 2-3 minute increments. Vocalist Nick Johnson paints the banal winter months and subsequent depression that every midwestern twenty-something has experienced with a mix of literary romanticism and pessimistic honesty that sets the band miles apart from their contemporaries. Banner Pilot may never live down the endless Dillinger Four and Jawbreaker comparisons but both of these bands recorded their best work using the same erudite lyrical approach. If Johnson is cribbing notes, he is cribbing them from the best the genre has to offer.
Underlying everything is the invisible hand of engineer Jacques Wait, the unsung hero of the record. Heart Beats Pacific is clean, and crisp without sounding like the creation of computers (I’m looking at you, Teenage Bottlerocket). The production will no doubt rub some the wrong way. I mean, 15 years later and people still pan Jawbreaker’s Dear You (my favorite Jawbreaker record, by the way) for it’s glossy finish. For those that question the high production value, put on the Go-Kart Records release of Resignation Day, Banner Pilot’s inaugural release, and then put on the remaster (done by Jacques Wait) which Fat Wreck Chords put out in 09. One sounds muddy and rushed, the other sounds bright and complete. I’ll let you decide which is which. This type of finish brings out the full potential of the songwriter. Every instrument comes through clearly and Johnson’s vocals sit on top with the same sense of frustrated urgency that made Collapser and the remastered Resignation Day so damn good.
If there is a flaw, and that’s a big ‘if,’ it is the lack any discernible stylistic shift from their first two records. Heart Beats Pacific is without a doubt, more of the alcohol tinged anthems of apathy and uncertainty that Banner Pilot and their contemporaries are known for (Zach from Dear Landlord even lends his voice to several tracks). At the end of the day, it’s hard to fault a punk band for playing it safe and recording new versions of the same formula, especially when the new versions improve on the formula as much as Heart Beats Pacific. Hell, Keith Morris has made a career out of doing just that for damn near 40 years now.