Those who really understand punk-rock know it is as intellectual as it is intense, seeking to express a range of emotions in addition to mere aggression. It’s for this very reason that Light on the Lake, the third full-length by Cleveland's Signals Midwest, represents the art form so effectively.
In many ways, the record is the self-portrait of singer and guitarist Max Stern, painted during a transitional, tumultuous time in his life. From this turmoil, though, Stern created moving and dynamic art. “In the Pauses” captures the pain of an on- and off-again relationship when it never quite coalesces. Steve Gibson’s drums plod during its intro as guitars gnash angrily around them, but the song ends with one of the record’s most beautiful moments—starting with a distant, resonating guitar on which spectral notes collapse in an almost-orchestral swoon, and rising into a display of explosive chords, strummed by Stern and guitarist Jeff Russell.
The dynamic melodies that make up Light on the Lake match Stern's narrative knack throughout the record. The frail but sparkling riff at the beginning of "St. Vincent Charity" darkens almost immediately as the speaker learns of a friend's hospital admission, and the antsy, hyper mood on "A Room Once Called Yours", paired with Stern's frustrated roar, conveys the stress of adjusting to real life after weeks of touring. Despite its discouraging opening image, "A Glowing Light, an Impending Dawn" concludes the record with a hopeful sense of closure; set to a sudden and determined rhythm, stirred up by Loren Shumaker's drilling bass, Stern promises a deteriorating friend, "I will become a monument to what was once lost / […] Here’s to carrying on with the weight of a ghost in your wake".
With thematic metaphors that repeat throughout the record—particularly the images of light leading one out of darkness and the dramatic transition from coastline to ocean—Light on the Lake is as literary as any canonical novel, as meaningful as any modern painting, and as punk-rock as it comes.