After Stephen Pedersen shut down White Octave he moved back to Omaha. A former member of Cursive, Pedersen was already down with the Saddle Creek contingent. But being back in his hometown, he got sick of his daytime lawyering gig and was itching to rock again, to be angry into a mic again. After an initial batch of songs, he tapped locals A.J. Mogis (Bright Eyes, Lullaby for the Working Class) and Mike Sweeney (Beep Beep) as a rhythm section, added guitarist Aaron Druery, and Criteria was official. It's still Pedersen's show on When We Break. He writes all the songs, and their anthemic jerkiness suggests some of White Octave's stuff as well as the usual influences (Jawbox, a little June of 44; even early Cursive). But they're sonically richer than his past work, and packed with rewarding fist-aloft moments. The pounding "Self Help" even reaches back to early post-hardcore like Quicksand. The ringing chords of "Ride the Snake," "Prevent the World," and "Draped in the Blood" are pretty undeniable, and Pedersen's indignity at the five o'clock world is inspiring. "How do I reconcile six years of life with the rational urges?" he asks, referencing his recent history as a rocker/student/workforce go-getter. Sure, he went and got it. But why does that mean he has to give up rock & roll? When We Break's significant punch proves he hasn't. Criteria also has an ear for dynamics, putting a piano up against a two-guitar body slam in "Grey Matter." The piano returns for an extended coda to closer "Connections," taking over the melody as the throes of distortion fade. It makes for a solid album. Pedersen could've easily been more bitter, but his lyrics instead go the subtlety route, and the songs are more intent on being satisfyingly rocking than sickeningly self-righteous.
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AllMusic Review by Johnny Loftus