“Wait, this is all the same album?” That question, asked by a passenger in my car as I was nearing the end of Summer People’s debut, Good Problems, goes a long way to elucidating one of my core issues with this release. To call it all over the place would be a gross understatement. The genre gulf between track one and track two is so utterly discombobulating that you’ll be checking to make sure you didn’t accidentally shuffle your entire iTunes library (it’s fair to assume we’re all on iTunes, right?). It’s particularly disappointing when you consider how immediately appealing the opener is. “Two Hearted River,” a righteous, communal backwoods stomper, begins Good Problems with winning immediacy. Yet the following track, “Shallow Water People,” is of a class of the most histrionic screamo. There’s no getting around it. Halfway through the song, the screaming halts, and Summer People turn “Shallow Water People” into a more plaintive, friendlier version of emo, but the effect of that stylistic one-eighty is absolutely jarring, and not in a positive way.
But if emo or screamo typically sends you running for the hills, don’t worry; “Shallow Water People” is the last you’ll hear of it on Good Problems. You also get scuzzed out blues-rock (“Broken Bones”), ethereal post-rock augmented by some airy vocals (“For Giving In”), bombastic shouting accompanied by big band drums (“Good Problems”), a few rustic folk tunes, and over nine minutes of instrumental noise that goes absolutely nowhere (“See Ya Later, Wouldn’t Wanna Be Ya”). The point that I’m beating into the ground is that this is a wildly varied record, which is easily its biggest flaw. It’s not easy to develop a serious interest in an album that sounds like the product of twelve different bands.
It’s a shame too, because Summer People get a lot right. A whole lot. There are a few stray tracks on this album that would make you swear Summer People are one of the most exciting young acts going. Even some of the lesser tracks have a lot to recommend them. “Glossy-Eyed” begins with some standard delicate guitar playing and takes its sweet time developing, but the prickly little guitar lead that shows up close to the end damn near saves the whole song. “Balcony” also overcomes some initial dullness; only it’s the whole band that eventually shows up to turn the song into widescreen monument to grandiosity. Shit, if “See Ya Later, Wouldn’t Wanna Be Ya” actually became a song at some point, I’d probably be complimenting the pretty introductory music.
It’s tempting to blame Summer People’s problems on the fact that there are eight people in the band without an easily identifiable leader. It would certainly account for the schizophrenic nature of Good Problems, but seemingly a good editor would alleviate a lot of the album’s problems. A few smart cuts and this album goes from maddeningly erratic to interestingly diverse. If Summer People manage to sharpen their focus, they may be able establish a coherent version of themselves. And the best moments on Good Problems suggest that could be something incredible.