Album Review: AWOLNATION – Here come the runts

I was as confused about the title of this record as most people. It sounds like the title of a whacky new cartoon someone is pitching to Nickelodeon. So understandably I was more than curious to listen to this new offering from AWOLNATION. Aaron Bruno and his gang are what I would define as truly creative. In the past AWOLNATION has often taken a leaf out of Beck’s book, blending genres and styles throughout the albums to create something entirely new and fitting to a specific place, time and feeling. Personally I have always respected this pure artistic approach, and to see something so different from the tried and tested formulaic approach selling out huge stages around the globe is a testament to them and to Red Bull Records for backing them.

Serving as a follow up to the platinum-certified debut album Megalithic Symphony, and 2015’s Run, AWOLNATION’s third undertaking sees Aaron Bruno once again at the helm producing, writing and recording. “With this record I really wanted to make a rock n’ roll/pop album.” says Bruno. “And I say ‘pop’ how I grew up listening to it, in the sense of Dire Straits or Born In The U.S.A or The Cars or Tom Petty.” I would hazard a guess that Bruon has definitely been listening to more blues since his last album. The album has a strong rustic feel in places, with hints of country and blues making regular appearances. I sometimes feel like his brain is so bombarded with ideas he forces them all instantly into an unconcious musical stream of thought.
Bruno spent 2016 crafting the album in his home studio nestled in the coastal mountain range separating the Pacific Ocean and the suburbs of Los Angeles where he grew up. The secluded location is reflected throughout the album. “The record definitely has a feel to it that seems parallel to the vibe of this mountain and the land,” Bruno notes. “It’s like a non-GMO record. There’s no fake shit on there, none of the vocals are tuned. It’s all real playing.”

The eponymous opening track is well conceived and does exactly that, opens the album. It’s straight away got some text book AWOLNATION synth sounds and signature song writing and the vocals drive everything forward like an engine. Straight off the bat it has a sense of some familiarity while pushing into new ground.

As the album unfolds there is some fantastic guitar tones in tracks like ‘Passion’, which must have taken some QOTSA levels of attention to detail to get right. And with a brief monent of 50’s style surf rock, it’s another shining example of AWOLNATION’s creative flair, which continues into ‘Miracle Man’ with it’s amphetamine induced vocals and guitar licks.

There are some wonderful styles explored in this record. ‘Jealous Buffoon’ has a nostalgic feel of 80’s new romantic era, while tracks like ‘Seven Sticks Of Dynamite’ and ‘Handyman’ really revel in the country and blues feel, even though an impressive array of sounds and instrumentation is being employed. It’s also in these songs on the album that I feel there is a lot of scope for other use, and I would not be suprised to hear several tracks off this album in film soundtracks, trailers or commercials. ‘Table For One’, with it’s summer vibe, is begging to be used in something on the big screen.

Highlight would be ‘Tall, Tall Tale’. A ballsy as hell blues rock riff, and the point on the album where Bruno really pushes his vocal delivery in all kinds of directions. It’s immediately followed by ‘The Buffoon’, sounding like something from a Christopher Nolan soundtrack, with it’s dark and brooding soundscape and unexpectedly instrumental approach.

As enjoyable as it is, it does have it’s weirder moments. ‘Sound Witness System’ starts out straight up hip hop and evolves into something unquantifiable. ‘Cannonball’ sounds like The Ramones perfoming at a gospel church and ‘A Little Luck…And A Couple Of Dogs’ is essentially a nursery rhyme for the demented. It could easily be the jingle for a secure hospital facility.
‘Here Come The Runts’ is quite the musical offering. From straight forward to utterly bemusing, it is constantly underpinned by a real sense of passion and belief in what is being created. It evokes nostalgia and memories of a better time while exploring a variety of lyrical themes. And this is what AWOLNATION does so very well, a collage of ideas, sounds and images.

Here Come The Runts is out February 2nd, and the band will be embarking on a headlining tour with support from Nothing But Thieves (US only) on February 11th in Toronto, and touring the States until mid-March before crossing the pond for a European/UK run throughout the month of April.

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