On Here Come the Runts, AWOLNATION does not mess around. Within the first few seconds of the title track, lead singer Aaron Bruno bellows, “Let’s start the magic! Let’s start the sun!”, sounding like some sort of rock and roll preacher as his voice echoes into a sonic void. Then that void is filled with the buzzing of guitars. Just when you think it’s about to calm down, there’s an electric crescendo, and Bruno shapeshifts into a ringleader yelling, “Come one, come all!” By the song’s end, he’s clarifying the meaning of the album’s name, laying out a sort of mission statement in the process: “I am a runt/Baby, you are a runt.” He’s not just announcing an oncoming triumph for the band: he’s pulling the listener along for the victory march, as well. Hence, Here Come the Runts starts out not only good, but great. Did you only know AWOLNATION from their 2013 hit “Sail”? Well, get ready; they’ve got many more tricks up their sleeves, and this album lays them bare.
Which tracks to zero in on first? It’s hard to decide when they’re all this diverse and creative, so why don’t we let the track list guide us? Track two, the single “Passion,” rolls along due to pounding percussion and short, punchy lyrical phrases. Its chorus—“P-p-p-passion”—manages to evoke both Lady Gaga’s “P-p-p-pokerface” and David Bowie’s “Fashion,” making it a prime pump-up song. Track three, “Sound Witness System,” continues the passion dialogue but turns it into a commentary on romantic encounters rather than zest for life. Bruno almost sounds like he’s rapping, considering his cadence and tone, but somehow, he doesn’t make it sound awkward or forced at all. Track four, “Miracle Man,” is one of the album’s highlights, even more so than its predecessors. Every time Bruno repeats the title at the speed of light, the song gets even more frenetic and fun. This would be phenomenal music to rock out to at a concert.
It would be easy to write a paragraph about every remaining song on the record, but that would take a while, so a summary will have to suffice. The album is pretty much divided evenly between tender ballads and immediately infectious rock songs; both are presented with an equal amount of attention to detail. In terms of low-key tracks, “Handyman” takes the cake. With acoustic verses and softly sung confessional lyrics, it fulfills the role of the album’s first ballad quite well. “Seven Sticks of Dynamite” is also gripping. Bruno’s voice reaches new heights from the first verse. Paired with simple, sparse instrumentation, it’s a raw, powerful song that you can almost picture being sung at a dusty campfire.
“Jealous Buffoon” and “Tall, Tall Tale” stand out as two of the most entertaining upbeat songs. The former is definitely likely to get stuck in your head, but it’s so enjoyable that you won’t even care. The verses move along with Killers-esque intensity; the chorus consists of assonance sung in falsetto over the sound of simulated strings. The latter is a fantastic exercise in dynamics. The contrast between the quiet, offhand way Bruno sings, “You’re just a… punk” and the force in his voice as he cries, “Bah, bah, bah-bah, bah!” only moments later is striking.
The last song on the album, “Stop That Train,” is a 6-minute epic in several parts. For some bands, this might seem overly ambitious; for AWOLNATION, it’s a natural conclusion to what they’ve created in 45 minutes. As Bruno calls out phrases like “Let me off! Conductor!”, you’ll be wishing the ride would continue. No doubt, this is AWOLNATION’s best album yet.