Review: Runaway Brother – ‘New Pocket’
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Evidently nobody informed Runaway Brother about music writers’ incessant need to fit bands into genre tags, because New Pocket, the long-awaited follow up to 2015’s criminally underrated Mother, is anything but run-of-the-mill. Runaway Brother have the chops to write dexterous math rock arrangements, but those instincts are dialed back to make room for imposing melodies and knockout hooks. Just when you think you’ve got Runaway Brother figured out they completely flip the script, putting even M. Night Shyamalan’s best plot twists to shame. New Pocket has been billed as “Outsider guitar pop”, which is about as close to an accurate genre tag as there is. The songwriting on here is as audacious as it is unconventional, and trying to keep track of all the twists and turns on New Pocket would require a map and compass.
New Pocket covers a lot of ground over its 44-minute runtime as Runaway Brother try to rewrite the playbook of indie rock. The music on here is as brazenly catchy as it is deliberately intricate, the dichotomy of those two things are what make the album such an engaging and singular listen. In a sense, it’s collage style music—the closest a fourth-wave emo album has come to sounding inspired by The Avalanches magnum opus Since I Left You.
Opener “Apply Care Directly” is euphoric pop-rock that abruptly shifts into lounge music without missing a beat. The synth run during the beginning of “Pillow” is Los Campesinos-esque and the snappy drums underneath are vibrant and exultant. “Canopy Eyes”, which trudges along at an almost sinister pace, sounds like Hail to the Thief era-Radiohead. “Bully” is the closest anything on New Pocket comes to being pop-punk, the line “puzzle piece me, make me fit into the frame/turn me inside out, schadenfreude” is as clever and garish as anything from Modern Baseball’s discography. Juggling all these different influences and inspirations could have resulted in a dizzying and uneven record, but Runaway Brother thrive in the gray area, and their music is at its best during its most unpredictable moments.
The ethos of the 1990s, a time of artistic and political revolution, linger all over New Pocket, both in tone and execution. “Cats In The Sun” features shimmering guitars that are oversaturated and enveloped by a flanger pedal; it’s beautifully textured and sounds like something someone would write after catching the tail end of an infomercial for the Buzz Ballads compilation. “All Saints Day” and “Obscured By Light” are indebted to the Seattle grunge movement, with the former sounding like a b-side from In Utero.
New Pocket doesn’t bask in nostalgia, it doesn’t try to replicate anything before it. Instead, it offers a slight notion of familiarity. The members of Runaway Brother, much like myself, aren’t quite old enough to vividly remember the nineties. We can only piece together bits and pieces of information from that decade—too young to yearn for the seemingly simpler days of the Clinton administration but old and wise enough to know that they must have been better than the current state of things.
On “Conscience in Tumult” vocalist Jacob Lee sings “claiming revolution, you’ve got some nerve/you know better than that”. The beauty of this lyric, and New Pocket, is that they’re both timeless. In 20 years, politicians are still going to be corrupt and the younger generations are still going to be bold enough to try and change the world. And these songs will still sound like nothing else before them, breaking the mold, defying expectations to craft something so effortlessly original and enduring.
Michael Brooks // @nomichaelbrooks
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