Review Summary: Flawed, but catchy...
AWOLNATION are quite a divisive band, as front man’s Aaron Bruno’s quirky blend of sonic styles usually either draws people in or puts them off. All the electronic and rock elements are always filtered through his pop sensibility, rendering the songs anywhere from enjoyable to obnoxious. I am sure a fair number of people wouldn’t have bet their money on the group to still be active in 2020. Thankfully, there was always more to them than a couple of infectious singles per album. In fact, the guys have developed a trademark sound, no matter how messy it is. The latest material, Angel Miners and the Lightning Riders
checks all the usual features:
- Songs that reach from piano bar ditties to disco (‘Slam’) and hard rock tantrums (‘I’m a Wreck’);
- High school musical singalongs (‘Pacific Coast Highway in the Movies’), peppered with short, chaotic freak-outs (‘Battered, Black & Blue’ or ‘Half Italian’);
- Vocals range from pristine falsettos to manic screaming, with unexpected switching between them;
- ADHD-esque change of tempos, grooves or breakdowns;
- Catchy pop numbers and lush ballads (‘The Best’ and ‘California Halo Blue’, respectively);
- Lyrics ranging from touching, motivational to self-deprecating and ultimately, nonsense, spiced with a bipolar touch;
- A hovering, paranoid vibe which won’t shake off;
- Ominous (((((((Reverb))))))) and dynamic production, which can also have negative effects on the tunes - e.g. muffled vocals, certain layers sound murky;
Long story short, the album sums up pretty much everything AWOLNATION indulged in so far. The actual rock leanings on Here Come the Runts
revealed some unexplored potential, thus creating a somewhat cohesive listen. However, you can't help but feel as if Bruno is his own enemy on this record. His passion, honesty and dedication cannot be denied, yet he often tries to incorporate too many things into one piece of music. Stretch that to 40 minutes and you receive a nauseous experience that inevitably leaves many listeners confused. Then why bother listening to Angel Miners and the Lightning Riders
? At best, you’re hooked and realize some of the tracks have really nice melodies and boast replay value. I find them occasionally refreshing, fun, uplifting or just guilty pleasures. If they don’t move or simply put you off, it’s easy to forget about them and move on.