Awolnation sails away from previous style

Photo courtesy of Red Bull Records

On Feb. 2, Awolnation released its newest studio album titled “Here Come the Runts.” Prior to the release of the record, the band’s frontman and leading songwriter Aaron Bruno expressed a desire to reinvent the group’s sound, which has largely been defined by electronic power pop songs like “Sail,” their most successful release to date.

The new album undeniably achieves Bruno’s goal of deviating from the group’s traditional style. The songs on “Here Come the Runts” range from powerful guitar-driven rock songs to electronic dance tunes to downright strange tracks that could best be described as spoken word poetry set to alternative music.

Included in the eclectic mix are a few traditional alternative radio-friendly songs. Still, these songs are sparse enough for the album to feel fresh overall. In some cases, these songs are even a relieving break from the complexity of the rest of the album.

“Handyman,” for instance, is a simple pop rock track that bears a lot of similarity to Awolnation’s older music (and to pretty much all of the music on alternative radio right now). An easy listen, the song contrasts sharply with the less conventional tracks that surround it, like “Sound Witness System,” which features several tempo shifts and sections of plainly spoken lyrics.

Immediately after “Handyman” comes “Jealous Buffoon,” a less plastic but still commercially viable song that is driven by a subtle but powerful guitar riff. The riff, paired with fluid vocals and interesting background instrumentation, leads to a fresh, entertaining song.

Following “Jealous Buffoon” is “Seven Sticks of Dynamite,” which is defined by a slow, staccato acoustic guitar riff that sets a dark, raw tone. Later, the song speeds up and the slow acoustic guitar is replaced with heavy electric guitar, giving the song an almost metal-esque finish.

“Table for One” and “My Molasses” are both rather boring radio-friendly tracks, contributing little to the artistic renaissance Bruno and his bandmates were looking to achieve with
the album.

However, the album ends on a high note with “Cannonball,” “Tall, Tall Tale,” “The Buffoon” and “Stop That Train” offering the full diverse range of sounds that characterizes the album as a whole. The last of these is a long, ambitious song driven by a heavy guitar riff and filled with tempo and tone shifts, making for an epic and satisfying ending to
the album.

The best songs on the album come at the beginning. The opening and titular track serves as an aesthetic thesis for the entire album. Fast, almost funky electronic beats are juxtaposed with powerful ‘70s style guitar and desperately shouted lyrics. This range of sounds prepares the listener for the album to come. Plus, the track is just a downright fun song to
listen to.

The album wastes no time getting to its star song, “Passion,” which comes as the second offering on the record. The song mixes traditional Awolnation sounds with a greater reliance on traditional instruments, most notably a killer electric guitar riff and quick drum beats.

Featuring almost whispered lyrics, the song is unique, emotional and entertaining. While it is not quite safe enough to be the leading single, listeners can tell that this song is the one that the band is the most proud of.

It is possible that this album will not be as popular amongst Awolnation fans as the repetitive rock-pop songs which made the band famous, but Bruno accomplishes his goal of diversifying the group’s sound. “Here Come the Runts” features a tremendous diversity of musical styles: while listening to it for the first time, one is never quite sure what is coming next. The experience of listening to the album is much like opening presents. What is inside the wrapping paper is often less important than the sensation of not knowing what is in store.

It is safe to say that no song on the album will achieve anything close to the commercial success the band experienced with “Sail” in 2011. However, Awolnation is, without a doubt, vastly superior to the band it was seven years ago.