When Max Stern of Cleveland punks Signals Midwest wants to get sensitive, he recruits his younger brother Jake, a banjo and a whole stack of cute melodies, puts 'em together and gets Meridian. But unlike their 2012 debut Aging Truths, The Cathedral [released on AP managing editor Scott Heisel's Youth Conspiracy Records —full disclosure ed.] is a louder (think relatively; this is more Weakerthans than Whitechapel) affair, one that is more of a full-band situation than the debut, which was light on the drums, heavy on the acoustic plucking. And it works: the brothers Stern know how to write a song in this setting, it turns out.
Take, for example, the opening title track, which builds and grows and swells in perfect pop-song fashion, with just enough emo credibility (the vocals are just one off-note away from winning over teenage hearts on the radio). Or “If You Let Me,” which, given a slicker production and a less tentative delivery, would be used in no shortage of prime-time dramas. Really, that tentative feeling is the only thing getting in the way of this being a really great album: a band like the Weakerthans harness that feeling and use its power, but here we're left wanting Max to really back up his considerably moving lyrics with a more swinging vocal punch.
But that's forgiven by the time late-album highlight “Eyes Like Lakes (Room Within A Room)” comes along. Perfectly summing up what Meridian are capable of, the tune is smartly written and passionately delivered. (Incidentally, the hints of old-school midwest emo guitar twang found throughout the album help drive that passion home.) There is some edge on The Cathedral, too, as the intro to “Gabriel” is either complete Thin Lizzy homage or unintentional coincidence that shows these guys love their rock ’n’ roll after all. Not that they need to rock to impress: plaintive, swooning ballad “Ten Extra Seconds,” for example, says tons with a whisper, which is exactly what Meridian excel at.
Youth Conspiracy http://www.youthconspiracyrecords.com