Run, Awolnation’s second full-length, isn’t quite the monster breakthrough I had unreasonably hoped for. But it’s no slump, and when Aaron Bruno is on, he’s on.
Most of the album’s strongest tracks are the ones where the band’s trademark gritty screaming dance rock riffs are front and center, which also happen to be the first tracks that were released. Those first impressions can really misdirect the expectations of anyone hoping for it to pick up where the band left off with bangers like Sail and Burn It Down.
The slow-cooked opening title track seems to set the stage for an unhinged flurry of Bruno’s trademark madness, climaxing halfway through when the music drops out for a second behind a single word, spoken plainly: “Run.” A grimy, rude, repetitive riff then kicks in and stomps through the second half of the song. It’s sparse, with really just that one trick, so it feels like a prologue, a set up for something big and vicious. But that’s not where the album goes.
Run sounds less like 2011’s Megalithic Symphony than it sounds like an album that Portugal. The Man might make. And that’s the biggest surprise overall. Fat Face opens with a verse that could just as well be an unapologetic John Gourley impression, complete with repetitive repetitiveness: I walk to the rhythm of the rhythm of your heart, you ain’t seen nothin’ ’til your mama falls apart, but I’m… awake… The “I’m” is of course held out over four counts through a chord change.
A big handful of the album’s cuts follow that unexpected model of drug-twee dance-ish sneakergaze pop, such as I Am, Headrest For My Soul, Holy Roller (no relation to aforementioned), Lie Love Live Love, and album closer Drinking Lightning. Jailbreak is adjacent to those, but manages to stand out strong with a soulful vibrato vocal on the verse and contrasting, hollering chorus.
It took a long time for Megalithic Symphony to fully grow on me, and remembering that, I’ve really been putting Run through the paces over the last few weeks, hoping to connect with more of the album’s lighter fare. It’s listenable, but just doesn’t click like the more aggressively energetic songs, like KOOKSEVERYWHERE!!! and Windows. Like People, Like Plastic transitions almost obnoxiously between what seems like two completely different songs mixed together, half cute and half evil, but it works.
At the end of the day, what Aaron Bruno does best is scream a unique and powerful scream over a genre-bending blend of rock riffs and dance beats. Critiquing Run is one of those cases where we have to balance our disappointment in an artist’s creative deviation with our respect for their bravery and conviction to following their whims. Awolnation is one of this era’s great rock bands, and it’s only a matter of time before they lock in and nail an album that just annihilates everything.
For now, while Run delivers some truly great cuts that are better and certainly more creative than almost anything out on the current landscape, as a journey, it meanders around a bit more than its title and album cover would suggest.
Most of the album's strongest tracks are the ones where the band's trademark gritty screaming dance rock riffs are front and center, which also happen to be the first tracks that were released. Those first impressions can really misdirect the expectations of anyone hoping for it to pick up where the band left off with bangers like Sail and Burn It Down.