Review Summary: AWOLNATION finally have an idea of what exactly they want to be.
In the wake the indie electronic wave, Aaron Bruno of Under the Influence of Giants pioneered a solo project called AWOLNATION, which blasted down the doors of indie with infectious hooks and twisted, crackling feedback. With debut material as potent and mesmerizing as “Sail”, AWOLNATION’s Megalithic Symphony
became an experimental bouquet, an album with a little for everyone. However, AWOLNATION’s debut threw everything at the wall, but never hit a bulls-eye. A jack of all trades, but a master of none, Megalithic Symphony
was just too
experimental and dizzying to be worthwhile. Four years later, Bruno is back with his sophomore record under AWOLNATION, Run
. Still a spectral electronic oddity mixed with Bruno’s vocal chops, AWOLNATION are sticking to their buzzing guns, but they finally have an idea of what exactly they want to be.
, for all its rampant experimentalism, was an unfocused endeavor. Aaron Bruno clearly had a desire to twist expectations, blend styles, and make something that simply couldn’t be compared to anything else in the crowded alternative scene. That’s admirable, but Megalithic Symphony
danced around too much, never settling into a niche for long. Bruno didn’t know what he wanted to do with AWOLNATION. Run
, however, feels much more direct. It’s floatier and spacier than its predecessor, with more buzzing synths and airy vocals from Bruno, but the tone he chose to follow through on is consistent. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a track on Run
without some form of spiraling electronic fog in the background. The heavily distorted revs of the title track are unsettling, but it’s by far one of the best tracks on the album. “Dreamers” is a sinister song, with Bruno shouting a la “Sail”, while a thick and crackling electronic buzz brews in the background. It’s furious, but doesn’t break away from many of the other aesthetic directions used on Run
. “Jailbreak”, whose metronomic pace sounds far too much like the radio hit “Sail” to be an accident, eases off the excess of the electronics with a lighter piano theme.
Vocally, Bruno has had a keen ear for variety. Megalithic Symphony
’s lack of direction might have been a hit-and-miss affair, but Bruno’s vocal style probably benefited the most from this lack of focus. Run
follows through upon his hopping between bluesy croons, falsetto highs, and belt-out shouts. “Woman Woman” sounds more like the classic sounds of AWOLNATION, taking cues from “Not Your Fault” from Megalithic Symphony
with catchy beeps and bloops. Bruno lets his singing carry the melodic weight on Run
, as heard on the fantastic “Like People, Like Plastic”, which features one of Bruno’s best vocal performances on the entire record. The title track is an eerie intro, with lyrics “I am a human being, capable of doing terrible things,” but under a choral drone of singing. The vocals are probably the part of Run
where Bruno has changed the least. The melodic variety that was present throughout Megalithic Symphony
is still firmly rooted in the compositions on Run
, though now, the music is produced with a more thorough hand.
The heavier focus on the electronic side gives many of the tracks on Run
a thicker and more visceral texture. It feels darker and fuller than Megalithic Symphony
did, so you don’t feel like Bruno is meandering around without an objective. However, the fullness of the electronica offers little room for deviation. Sure, the heavy impact of a buzzing synth has weight, but when every single track on the record has such a similar tactic, the impact is weakened. Run
uses its focus on excess to some superb effect, no doubt, so it makes the excess of the excess
an almost surreal misstep for AWOLNATION.
With a more consistent and focused tone on Run
, Aaron Bruno and AWOLNATION are moving down the right path. Megalithic Symphony
’s experimentation feels concentrated on Run
, while still offering ample opportunity for Bruno to showcase his vocal talent and fill the room with a thunderous electronic warp. The song compositions are just better on Run
, and for the first time, Bruno has a full vision in tow. Whether or not this vision can last, however, is where Run
flounders a bit. The use of crammed electronica paints a picture, so it makes the overuse of this tactic feel like Bruno settling in too much
. Bruno moves from one side of the spectrum to the other, shifting from a total lack of a focus to a total commitment to one. That being said, Run
is Bruno improving his songwriting, and I can confidently call it a better album than its predecessor. Will it give rise to a bright future for AWOLNATION" That’s yet to be seen, but Run
is the first step to Bruno reaching a balance between rampant experimentalism and committed consistency. Eventually, I think he’ll get there.