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Courtesy of Red Bull Records

February 12, 2018

TEST SPIN | AWOLNATION — Here Come the Runts

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I was fortunate enough to discover AWOLNATION early, and I continued to listen until their first album, Megalithic Symphony, caught the attention of the masses. With this, I abandoned them out of pretentious spite. Years later, I am happy to say that Aaron Bruno and company haven’t lost their ability to create unique, genre-noncomforming music.

If AWOLNATION was a lesser band, they may have simply tried to recreate the sound and success of their smash-hit “Sail.” However, Here Come the Runts sees Bruno dramatically shift his instrumentation, following in the footsteps of ’80s-era rockers. This is echoed in the album’s thematic focus — Bruno’s “runts” are the successors to Springsteen’s working-class Americans, those that are pushing on despite the stress and struggle of modern America.

AWOLNATION’s dedication to experimentation is evident by the end of the first song “Here Come the Runts” which features multiple tempo swings. The titular track is followed by “Passion” and “Sound Witness System,” two songs with an overlapping beat written in dedication to finding your passion. The first of the aforementioned two incorporates moments of funk and glam rock, and is perhaps the catchiest song from the album, while the second contains an unexpected hip-hop lyricism.

“Handyman,” a much softer rock song, is one of the album’s more emotional points, with lyrics like “I’m a sinner / Seasoned beginner / Lucky to be alive” and “I’m not brittle / I’m just a riddle / Born of white, blue and red.” Bruno shows a glimpse of his outlook and focus for the album, as evidenced by his optimism and lack of complacency.

This endorsement is also seen in a short interlude during which Bruno sings, “all I need is you, a little luck, and a couple of dogs.” While it serves as a great transition to the second half of the album, it also manages to convey a great amount of vulnerability.

The song following the interlude, “Table For One,” is my favorite song off of the album. In it, Bruno alternates between gentle longing and roaring expressions of emotion. He sings of struggles with relationships and begs, “Cause I don’t want you to leave / I want a day in your dreams / And with a little luck you can stay.”

The album’s finale, “Stop That Train,” is a six-minute adrenaline rush that can be interpreted two different ways. Consider lines such as “Now I’ve gotta go court the conductor / And I gotta bleed gold on the track / Breathin’ in a choke hold.” It is easy to see it as a continuation of his reflections on relationships, but it has more depth as an admission of the position his music and his fans have put him in.

Admittedly, there were a few songs that didn’t strike me as spectacular. “Miracle Man” was too aggressive for my taste and not easily accessible, and “Cannonball” is fun but not as engaging as others on the album. But, for me, these lowlights are a part of what makes AWOLNATION so good; they can never be accused of lazily making a “typical” AWOLNATION song because there is no such thing.

Personally, I hope Bruno continues to innovate and follow his own path.

 

Noah Harrelson is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at nmh65@cornell.edu.