Rich Mattson and the Northstars: Aeroplane Mode

Paul Whyte

For those into local music, Rich Mattson might be a familiar name, or perhaps he should be. I’ve lost count of how many albums I’ve reviewed or at least listened to out of Mattson’s Sparta Sound Studio. He and his partner, Germaine Gemberling, head Mattson’s own band called Rich Mattson and the Northstars. There are a number of albums that the two have worked on together, and a handful of releases from the Northstars. 

Their latest album titled “Aeroplane Mode” once again brings out their mostly easygoing mix of folk and rock with a Northland flair. Songs touch on various subjects such as friends, the environment, politics, and personal struggles to name a few. The musicianship is solid throughout, but there are some certain high marks in parts of the songs that really shine through with the playing. 

For whatever reason, perhaps because I like punk and political songs sometimes, one of the first songs to grab my attention was “Walk Among You.” It definitely has a feel of country to it, which is almost ironic considering who parts of the songs are directed towards. “I’ve never met my neighbors, though they’re right across the street, they fly a rebel flag and they’re always packing heat,” goes the first line of the song. The song shifts to North Dakota and addresses the pipeline protests that happened in that area, where they were met with “bullets, guns, and cops.” “Maybe everyone needs to take a hallucinogen,” suggests a line. Overall, the song is about gaining understanding and loving one another, or at least avoiding conflict. 

The song “Wave Sound” stuck out to me because of the song structure that definitely highlights the fiddle parts. This alternative/folk/pop song has an affirming feel and is pretty cool overall. 

The Northstars sometimes write very specific songs about people they know, or maybe a character they created? Either way, a “character” is certainly the term for the person behind the song “Old Boy,” a song about an old/young hippie with plenty of stories and charisma. A guy who has hitchhiked and will just give away his records to simplify his life. It’s an enjoyable song. 

One of the more serious songs on the album is “Time to Let This Go.” It’s about facing personal difficulties as the title would suggest. The song “101” likewise touches on how people fit into life. The song has the perspective of a man who is 101 years old who has lived through the years to see war, the great depression, and ultimately family. 

The “Aeroplane Mode” does certainly travel around in an enjoyable way. There are certain areas of wisdom and some areas of humor that carries some depth while not coming off as depressing or heavy. Good musicianship, good lyrics, good recording, topped off with the often duet harmonies of singing between Mattson and Gemberling makes this album take off nicely.  


Paul Whyte

A South Shore native and University of Wisconsin-Superior journalism graduate. Lifelong musician, and former open mic host. Passionate about the music scene and politics.

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