“Here Come the Runts” feels like an impulsive album that proves AWOLNATION is open to most concepts. The result is an album with a lot of hits and a lot of misses.
Before getting into this album, let’s talk about AWOLNATION in general. For me, AWOLNATION’s strength comes from how they compose songs. AWOLNATION has a great sense of dynamics, how to make a song rise or fall or switch rhythms. Otherwise, AWOLNATION doesn’t have a whole lot.
AWOLNATION’s instrumentation is super simple and easy to follow. The band’s lyrics aren’t particularly engaging or thoughtful. Vocalist Aaron Bruno does have a good emotional range, a great scream, and an interesting voice, but most of what makes AWOLNATION any better than a forgettable alt-rock act is how they give their hits have very solid sense of progression and movement.
You can hear this in “Sail.” “Sail” doesn’t have a lot to it. It’s basically a synth beat, some clapping, and some keys. Yet when you add Bruno’s raw screaming and the song’s pure, simple, and punchy composition into the mix it becomes a big hit. It has a great, smooth breakdown in the middle, and it gears up very well.
“Here Come the Runts” sounds good when it plays to AWOLNATION’s strength and creates interesting songs through compositions. The title track, “Here Come the Runts,” fits the AWOLNATION style pretty well. It has a fast drum line, a fuzzy guitar line, an emphatic horn line, and yelling. The composition is what makes it cool and interesting. It opens up pretty slowly with some autotuned chorus vocals, a little pared down percussion, and then gradually shifts the tempo up and down in a way that doesn’t disrupt the song’s flow.
Unfortunately, “Here Come the Runts” isn’t as indicative of the album as “Sound Witness System.” I respect “Sound Witness System” but I don’t know if I like it. “Sound Witness System” is bald-faced courage incarnate. It’s definitely some part of valor, though probably not the better part of it. “Sound Witness System” features a minute of strange and hilarious slow-jamming then another minute and a half or so of a simple jam loaded with distorted strings and sharp percussions.
I want to know if I’m supposed to laugh at this song because it makes a difference. If this song is meant to be laughed at it’s a great success. If it isn’t, then the band needs to re-assess. If the lead singer slow-jamming lines like, “grinding on my troops trying to rile up my militia” and “she wants to add a friend and I’m a gifted mathematician” aren’t supposed to be so absurd they’re funny, then I don’t know what is.
“Sound Witness System” makes so little sense. It’s a great microcosm of the album as a whole because it’s all over the place and half of it sounds solid and experimental and the other half sounds like a bad decision or a good joke.
This is the trouble with the entire album. At some points, it feels like hard-edged pop with some pretty fun experimentation added. There are moments where AWOLNATION remind me of The Hives in a very good way and “Here Come the Runts” feels like a fun romp. There are moments where I have so much fun with this album that I want to love it. Then there are so many moments of staleness, of songs that feel phoned in or made just for the hell of it that I dislike the album.
“Stop That Train” is a 6-minute song that never gets dull and feels like three two-minute songs glued together in a really smart way. “My Molasses” feels like a song I’ve heard ten times before and never liked enough to commit to memory. “Seven Sticks of Dynamite” goes on a little too long but otherwise has a nice slow-burn rhythm and very visceral sounds. “Handyman” and “Table for One” have dull compositions and ideas that only seem duller played next to the more interesting tracks on this album.
The album goes back and forth in quality like this constantly. Is “Here Come the Runts” a good album? Yes. Is “Here Come the Runts” a bad album? Also, yes. It’s like a bad EP and a good EP mashed together. With this album, AWOLNATION recklessly shot from the hip and it means it’s loaded up with hits and misses. It has a nice energy, it has some core stylings of AWOLNATION (absurd lyrics, wonderful screaming, and simplicity made interesting by song structure), and it has its moments. In between the moments, there’s a lot of mediocrity.
There exists a universe where AWOLNATION hones their style and hits hard with it every time they drop an album. Maybe next album we’ll hear the alternate universe AWOLNATION and really have some fun.