AWOLNATION is officially now simply Aaron Bruno at this point. The pioneering mastermind nearly single-handedly crafted and recorded the entirety of Run, though he still has a core group of musicians adding their immediacy in the form of a solid rhythm section. Still, it ultimately feels as if it’s Bruno at the helm, more so than with initial offering Megalithic Symphony. It’s his soundtrack to his story; whatever foreign, deja vu-laden lands that may take the listener. The biggest question is if fans are committed to the full ride. It’s hard to hear Run as a standalone album at times just because of its slingshot factor of piano-heavy slow-burns juxtaposed against clear grabs at singles.
Opener and eponymous track “Run” is a post-Megalithic Symphony nursery rhyme, almost a coda to the band’s first feat of sonic sorcery. As their debut LP ended with the emotive dystopian choir of “All I Need,” so Run picks up at the edges of the soundscape. Similarly, “Hollow Moon (Bad Wolf)” gleefully skips between the singsong line of nursery rhyme and legitimate rock track. “Fat Face” and “Jailbreak” return to the emotive in the type of sugar rush comedown you’d expect from a singer whose signature line just happens to be “blame it on my ADD.” In my experiences with Bruno, however, it’s less an issue of short attention span but more an attempt to strike a balance with the ultimate freedom that experience in the industry has netted him.
The band excels at the unconventional as a live outfit and it’s Bruno’s previous foibles as a young musician that make him at once so cautious and yet so prolific. Sure, he wants total creative control over what stands as his current legacy as surprise anthem master. At the same time, every distorted crunch of faux strings that waft through his brain like the fleeting countryside (AWOLNATION continues to be a workhorse of a touring outfit) is made into a wholly real sample to juxtapose against Bruno’s howls and croons almost as effortlessly. Run is rarely weighed down by the sum of its parts, instead approaching the listener like a particularly rewarding but difficult novel.
At times, you have to work to enjoy Run. “Lie Love Live Love” is at times so unapproachable, it feels as if Bruno was just picking disparate genres from a hat and seeing if they could meld together. Still, the big attempt at a ballad has its strong points in the beach tones of a repetitive breakdown. As AWOLNATION continue to tinker, it will be interesting to see how much further these songs take Bruno when faced with the next record, show, or appearance. Regardless of the outcome, he’ll do it on his terms. Closing track “Drinking Lightning” almost certainly seals that, with its fuzzed out longing and Daniel Johnston sparseness propelling it into untouchable, uncharted territory before adding the levity of saccharine harmonies juxtaposed against droning that certainly echoes its title track. When Bruno calls out “No you don’t fare well without me” into the ether, the echoes of his own voice that join him are all the reassurance he needs.