Audio Reviews
S/T
by Roomrunner
Fan Death Records (2011)
S/T
9 / 10
Roomrunner, the new project from Baltimore multi-instrumentalist Denny Bowen, could not have become a full-blown band at a better time. The past year brought the break-up and breakthrough of several high-profile Baltimore groups. Bands like Wye Oak and Future Islands enjoyed time on the national radar while other much-loved groups called it quits. One of the groups saying goodbye was Double Dagger, a band Denny played drums in. Now, a new year and a new chapter begins with the push of a “play” button, as Roomrunner injects a shot of adrenaline into a music scene in transition.

Play button? Well, a long time ago in a music and arts underground far, far away, the demo tape was a way for a band to make a big noise and first impression quickly and economically. The fact that local label Fan Death released Roomrunner’s self-titled EP on audio cassette as opposed to CD or LP appears to be a nod to this tradition. The format fits—these songs draw smartly on an era dominated by the cassette. The result is a potent, elbows-out run of big hooks and sloppy riffs, carefully blended.

On opening track “Shed,” Roomrunner wastes no time getting to the point. First, a hail of feedback, and then the first big wave of a riff. The track is a good introduction to the music about to speed by, with its pop underpinnings, driving backbeat, and loud/quiet/loud dynamic.

The second track, “Spinning,” begins in full battle mode, the bass line stomping around like the Jesus Lizard at their most muscular before the verse greets us, clearly in a hurry. We soon slam into a head-nodding riff just before the song blows sky high. At under three minutes, “Spinning” comes across like Nirvana in a bar room brawl with the Kinks, the results minimal, anthemic and memorable.

“Bathtub” begins quietly, giving listeners time to catch their breath before launching into another big push forward. Such high energy music can wear on the listener, but the recording and engineering of band member Dan Frome keeps things engaging throughout. The guitars fistfighting across the track add a crucial layer of difference to “Bathtub.” Deliberate nuances like these keep the songs from blurring together.

“Upside Down” begins amid guitar squall and scribble before stomping into view. Throughout the EP, Bowen’s vocals are kept low in the mix, keeping the lyrics just out of reach. Here, the phrase “the image is upside down” comes through, but not much else. Regardless, the song contains another melody line that you will find yourself humming for some time.

It is with “Aesthetic” that things become a bit sing-songy, the vocal melody line a playground taunt that grows on the listener, the sweetened vocal harmonies gradually winning you over. This song’s deconstructed rock dynamics are reminiscent of late-period Fugazi. It is the one song on the EP that zigs instead of zags, adding a needed bit of reverse pull.

The final track “Disintegrate” begins with the harsh angular feel of “Machine”-era Black Flag before expanding into the full bloom of another riff rock monster. Although the listener is only fourteen minutes in, “Disintegrate” feels like the closer to a full-length LP, as if you’ve been listening to this group forever and they already have a multi-album legacy to look back upon.

Roomrunner make quite a first impression with their big noise, each track a testament to the enduring power of the power chord. This is full-band traditional rock music constructed with care, worth checking out both recorded and live. Here’s hoping for more meaty riffs, smart arrangements, and big hooks in the coming years from this promising new group.

Roomrunner's self-titled EP can be streamed and purchased here.
Posted by: Tim Kabara

Audio Reviews (January 19th, 2012)