Sound — 6
Awolnation may have captured the world's ears right out of the gate with their very first single, "Sail," but the band's founder and chief operator, Aaron Bruno, was anything but a newcomer to the music scene. Starting as a vocalist for the short-lived post-grunge band Hometown Hero, this would essentially be Bruno's most conventional musical endeavor of them all - being little more than an emulation of the golden-era grunge bands that paved that way a decade ago. Hometown Hero would eventually evolve into the alt-rock group Under the Influence of Giants, which started to show less taste for the 90s and more taste for funk/disco-influenced rock.
This bit of eccentricity in music style would only foreshadow Bruno's urge to indulge further, which would lead to Awolnation, where Bruno's rock became outfitted with an array of synthesizers. Not only that, but even more influences would be represented with this general instrumentation in the band's debut album, "Megalithic Symphony" - whether it was hints of NIN-influenced industrial, MGMT-esque indietronica, stark electronic rock a la latter-day Muse, or even dance-rock echoes from his former band. On paper, it seemed scatterbrained, but the easily-digestable electronic pop rock style held the album together, piquing enough interest to see how Awolnation would grow from there.
In the simplest of explanations, Awolnation's follow-up album, "Run," is an expansion of "Megalithic Symphony" on nearly all fronts: the synth elements and sing-along parts are stronger, Bruno's voice travels a wider spectrum, and the buffet of genre adaptations has gotten even larger. On paper, this sounds like the right way to one-up their previous album, but in practice, it comes off like frantic spit-balling in the wake of identity crisis. They attempt R&B in "Jailbreak," post-rock in "Holy Roller," stark acoustic folk in "Headrest for My Soul," and a symphonic synth ballad in the closing "Drinking Lightning." The most head-scratching moments are when they try fusing things together - they blend dubstep and rapcore in "Windows," and pin an electronicore breakdown (yes, rife with full-on screaming vocals) on the end of the 80s pop template "Hollow Moon (Bad Wolf)."
The Trent Reznor emulation is stronger this time around too - whether it's the "Hesitations Marks" synth instrumentation in "Run," the "March of the Pigs"-evoking urgency in the verses of "Kookseverywhere!," or just the bigger investment in analog synths in general - and Bruno's impression of Isaac Brock's shouty vocal style is employed more though the album; even trying to juxtapose the gentleness of tracks like "Fat Face," "Jailbreak," and "Like People, Like Plastic," which result in jarring and sloppy dynamics.
The most rewarding tracks on the album are the ones that are rooted in the cardinal electronic rock sound of Awolnation. Though those seeds were planted in "Megalithic Symphony," it's still not quite established as a "signature sound" for the band just yet, but with cuts like the lighter-waving "I Am," the upbeat "Dreamers," the groovy and easygoing "Woman Woman," and the dreamy "Lie Love Live Love," focusing on polishing their electronic rock side would prove to pay off for Awolnation in the long run - now if only they could, in fact, focus on doing that and leave the genre-gallivanting for later.
Lyrics — 5
Whereas the majority of lyrics in "Megalithic Symphony" were composed with both intentions of containing inspirational messages for the listener and being sing-along fodder, the lyrics in "Run" are primarily embedded in Bruno's perspective, telling stories both bland and bizarre. At his most untethered, Bruno gravitates to the macabre - talking about losing his head in "Hollow Moon (Bad Wolf)" and the rest of his limbs in "Windows," harping on blood in "Kookseverywhere!" and "Dreamers," and crassly screaming "f-ck your ghost!" in the end of "Like People, Like Plastic." These grandiose pipe dream lyrics may only be an end in themselves, but they prove more interesting to follow than other cases, where simplicity via repetition and boilerplate profundity are what drive the rest of the lyrics - whether it be the Hobbes-inspired chant of "I am a human being, capable of doing terrible things" in "Run," the self-accepting sing-along chorus of "I Am," or the stuck-in-delusion chant of "now I'm living in a dream" in "Jailbreak."
Overall Impression — 6
Like a dog darting around the yard with no concrete intention, the most commendable quality of "Run" is Awolnation's exuberance to go for everything they felt like going for. But in their interest to be everywhere at the same time - from ham-handedly juxtaposing soft compositions with loud compositions, to offering as many different genre adaptations as they can contrive - "Run" ultimately suffers from an utter lack of cohesion. With the most grounded tracks of this sporadic album showing definite improvement for the band, Awolnation may be better off getting their bearings in electronic rock before they aspire to an epic journey in sonic exploration. They have the potential and the lust for it, but with the number of stumbles in "Run," Awolnation need to remember to walk first.