May 26, 2013

Album Review: Roomrunner's Ideal Cities

Growing up in the suburbia sticks where not many culture waves made their way through the halls of my high school (this was right before the advent of music's Internet age where bloggers and social media got the word out to those not living in some big city, need I remind you...) I thought At the Drive-In were the godfathers of post-hardcore as music history had known it. For about two years that belief I held dear until I met my best friend for life in college who quickly educated me about the falsity in these ideas with copies of Fugazi's 13 Songs and Drive Like Jehu's Yank Crime. The lesson I learned from that point on was that sometimes the bands who are most well known in the genre aren't always the ones who thought up the style first, and giving proper credit where credit is due changes the way you feel and assign worth to a band. Baltimore BUZZSounders Roomrunner on the other hand operate like a complete reversal of this notion. From the ashes of seminal scene noise rockers Double Dagger, drummer Denny Bowen has refashioned himself a quartet of big and loud weirdo alternative sludgers who come off sounding more pristine with their approach to chaos than that of his past life, and while these days everything with reverb in indie is either thrown under a "grunge" or "post-punk" label, their debut LP Ideal Cities brings up another very important analytical discussion point: The different between revivalism and reinvention.

It would be a complete nisnomber to sit here and say Roomrunner are yet another tightly-wound descendant of Nirvana, but much like California X railed against and defeated sloppy Dinosaur Jr. comparisons with their debut, it's what Roomrunner are up against in proving the critical mass wrong once again. Ideal Cities is fast-chugging with rhythm rocked hooks, diffused riffs and counts Dan Frome, a guy who knows a thing or two about working in the studio with the era's veteran acts, as their producer, but listen closer and discover they aren't in this to recreate grunge glory for their own gain. "Duno" and "May" carry the flag of sluggish screamers akin to Kurt in '92, but the buck stops at Bowen and Jeff Byers' zig-zagging feedback that effort themselves to be screwed in instead of messy and slushed. The connections between all things John Reis and Albini lying beneath the LP's straight-forward sonic rippers "Bait Car," "Bowlth" and "Wojtek" are thinly shellacked with a pop-punk coating their predecessors would have scoffed at out of fearing of losing heavy cred, yet Roomrunner force melody into harm's way without resorting to big budget production mechanics to soften their shoulders or losing any of the push-pit-inducing energy. Like all great loud listens, Ideal Cities begins full-throttle and stays the course for the remainder, making it easy for the discriminating ear to get lost in the fuzz, but the placement of its shiftiest and strongest tracks "Bait Car" as opener and "Weird" at the half-way mark divide the senses enough to pick apart the finer details in time sigs and the difference between Bowen scraping his vocals against a cement wall opposed to humming them into a fan.

Roomrunner's Canadian counterparts METZ took a similar path last year with their vicious self-titled arrival by hinting at influence from Drive Like Jehu and the Jesus Lizard on top of adding their own style of punkisms and decibel damage in for good measure, but that still didn't stop the press from deeming them as post-hardcore revivalists. The difference between revivalism and reinvention, however, is that the former simply wants to pick up right where their predecessors left off decades ago by reappropriating chord arrangements and a style as their own while the latter wants to take everything that was done before, figure out what was missing back then and make it better. Ideal Cities sounds like an album written by a group of dudes who were old enough to remember the day Kurt Cobain died, but in the years since, a lot has changed in music and the industry that's provided these Baltimore noise-punks the opportunity to pop louder on first entrance without coming off like total hacks. If this is grunge in 2013, then I'm not about to make the same mistake twice by giving Nirvana all the credit for their success.

Roomrunner's Ideal Cities will be released May 28, 2013 on Fan Death Records.

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