The bruised and battered heart of Maxwell Stern has been front and centre of Signals Midwest’s output for several years now, so it’s little surprise to hear the world-weary resignation behind the words “it left a dent on me” on closing track ‘Dent’.
Yet, while the focus might be on struggles and experiences, central to Stern’s stories are themes of hope, with kernels of optimism scattered throughout. Sometimes, like on opener ‘You’re Gonna Be Golden’ this means digging in and not giving up, while on ‘Guest Room’ it’s acknowledging the strength and support of others. In finding these flashes of positivity, it’s easy to root for Stern, as his personal stories unfurl.
‘Dent’ is also Signals Midwest’s most colourful record to date, recalling the multi-textured sounds of Into It Over It and moving the group away from straight-up indie-rock territory into something much more interesting. Tempos change, duelling vocals drift in and out and splashes of gang vocals pepper proceedings, but rarely steal the show, instead letting Stern’s lyrics shine.
It sounds great too. ‘All Good Things’ is a percussive driven juggernaut, and possesses an intensity not often associated with Signals Midwest, while ‘Gold In The Grey’ is an off-kilter pop song of the highest order. Elsewhere, ‘Love And Commerce’ – a paean to creativity in a capitalist world – has a homespun, earthen charm which explodes into life for the final third.
Bursting with sentimentality and sprinkled with promise, ‘Dent’ is every bit as good as Signals Midwest’s excellent and enduring ‘Light on the Lake’; a small, intimate beacon of hope but, in moments, thrilling all the same.