By Zach Hertz,
It’s been four years since AWOLNATION “sailed” to prominence with their first album, Megalithic Symphony, and their new album, Run, is long overdue.
AWOLNATION is most famous for the single “Sail”, which spent 79 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100- the second longest amount of time for a song to stay on the Hot 100, and eclipsed only by Imagine Dragon’s “Radioactive”.
Given the widespread success that “Sail” had, comparisons between it and tracks on this album are inevitable, but listening to “Run” and expecting a single that had the raw emotion and pervasiveness of “Sail” will lead to disappointment.
However, “Run” is still an amazing album. In a 2012 interview with MTV News, AWOLNATION writer Aaron Bruno said, “I think the next record will be a little more raw, and a little more aggro, and a little stranger, but still have the nursery-rhyme feel of melody, because that’s the only way I know how to write,” and he definitely delivered what he promised.
My favorite tracks were “I Am”, “Jailbreak”, “Lie Love Live Love” and “Fat Face”.
“Run” is raw, strange, but catchy. It shows off Bruno’s varied technical skills, and has the unique eccentricity that characterized his earlier works. See below for my track by track review.
The eponymous first track sets the tone for the rest of the album, with its heavy bass, slightly emo lyrics and constant beat. I’d recommend playing this song to check your subwoofers when installing them.
2. Fat Face
The second track could almost be mistaken for an 80s song. With the piano, drums and crooning chorus background “Fat Face” seems reminiscent of Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer”, and it couldn’t be more different from “Run”. Until, of course, Bruno starts screaming the chorus at the end in classic AWOLNATION style. I found “Fat Face” charmingly reminiscent of more classic songs, in a style that was pleasantly different for Bruno. It proves that his experimentation and exploration into new styles is definitely successful.
3. “Hollow Moon (Bad Wolf)”
This was one of the tracks released as a single before the album, along with track nine “Windows”. It was also the poster child of the album and paraded as the lead single. Despite this, I couldn’t bring myself to like this track. It really suffered from Bruno’s habit of screaming lyrics, which sometimes works nicely stylistically but made “Hollow Moon” unintelligible. Still, the song was sort of catchy, and in my opinion would have sounded amazing had Bruno tried a bit harder to enunciate. Listen to it and decide for yourself!
I immediately liked “Jailbreak”. The drumbeat and repeated vocals are kind of soothing, and this is the first track where you could really draw parallels to “Sail”, with “Jailbreak” having much less brutal emotion, but a more refined sound. Here Bruno’s skills at mixing and combining different sounds really shines through, and I can see “Jailbreak” becoming a breakout hit on the radio in the weeks to come.
After the more mellow sound of “Jailbreak”, this track seemed really grating. Just from the name, you can get a sense for the song- loud, nonsensical, and enthusiastic. While I have no doubt that this was one of the more fun songs to write and produce, I really couldn’t enjoy it until the last thirty seconds, when the yelling finally faded.
6. I Am
Maybe it helped that I really disliked the previous track, but “I Am” really impressed me. If you’re a fan of AWOLNATION’s signature heavy bass and intense vocals, though, “I Am” is not for you. Here Bruno shows his mastery of the basic song style, with a catchy melody and pop style that seemed reminiscent of works like Coldplay’s “Fix You”.
7. Headrest for My Soul
Short, sweet and to the point. “Headrest for My Soul” isn’t the sort of song you’ll be hearing on the radio, but the vocals and guitar background gave “Headrest for My Soul” a sort of sweet, nostalgic sound.
And we’re back to the heavy, intense sound that Bruno promised, in a song almost like a love child of AC/DC and Skrillex. The grating bass and the screaming vocals might scare away the more casual music listeners, but there’s something intangible in this song that could win over the most classical of music listeners.
Although I thought the beginning was choppy and rough, this track found its beat quickly. I thought it was okay, a well-engineered song but it seemed to lack the oomph that most of the other songs had. Early results from today show this track to be one of the more popular ones, though, so I’d say to listen to this as well and decide for yourself.
10. Holy Roller
The guitar picking accompanying a ethereal tenor in the opening reminds me of Led Zepplin’s “Stairway to Heaven”. The rest of the song has a closer resemblance to something by the Beatles, though, with the chorus, drumbeat and guitar.
11. Woman Woman
“Woman Woman” sounds like a song you’d hear playing as you thumb through the clothes at your local mall. It has a nice beat, and it’s more electronic than some of the mellow songs but more mellow than some of the heavy ones.
12. Lie Love Live Love
After 30 minutes in the album, it’s easy to get tired and be ready to quit. Luckily, “Lie Love Live Love” is there for you to keep the album going. It brings together all of Bruno’s elements successfully, the bass, the beat, the vocals, the melody and even the screaming to create a unique and engaging song.
13. Like People, Like Plastic
The vocal beginning and buildup in “Like People, Like Plastic” makes it a song that immediately sticks out from the rest of the album. The alternation between the intense beat and the calmer interludes made this one a late favorite of mine.
14. Drinking Lightning
Lightning seems to be a common theme in this album. “Drinking Lightning” has a mellower tone similar to many of the earlier songs, but it employs much more synthesizer and bass than its predecessors. It seemed fitting that the end to this album stressed the words “fare well”, in a clever play on words.
“Run” is a great followup to an initial success that is hard to duplicate, proving that lightning can strike twice. The varied tracks demonstrate AWOLNATION lead Aaron Bruno’s mastery over many aspects of songwriting and composing, and hopefully “Run” puts them back in the public radar.