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Here Come the Runts *
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  • Ever since Aaron Bruno broke through with Awolnation's debut single, "Sail," he hasn't been afraid to serve up his vast array of influences with the full-length releases Megalithic Symphony (2011) and Run (2015). Here he delivers his third effort, Here Come the Runts, a further exercise in toying with arena-filling vocal melodies, razor-sharp synths, and invigorating electro-pop. The Bruno camp changes up the score again while managing to remain in the sonic vein of preceding releases. The opening title track clocks in at just over three minutes, and while playfully deceiving with tempo changes that knock out blasting drums and galloping, palm-muted riffs at every turn, it does feel a little like an overextended intro after a while. This is rectified almost instantly with second track and lead single "Passion." The track exemplifies Bruno's talents well -- his reverb-tinged, playful falsetto vocals soar throughout each verse before exploding into crunchy, distorted choruses that consist of more stacked melody. The album presents its strengths at sporadic moments, carefully placed to bring you down after a wall of hard percussion and distortion with softer, sweeter moments that just sail along. "Handyman" combines finger-picked acoustics with overdriven guitar and soaring, layered vocals, while "Jealous Buffoon" consists of honest and revealing vocals wrapped up in kinetic vocal melodies, resonant guitar, and sharp staccato strings. Elsewhere, highlights are "Seven Sticks of Dynamite" -- a slow, languid tempo that begins with pleasant acoustic chords before being ignited with pummeling percussion, sharply overdriven guitar, and gang vocal harmonies; album closer "Stop That Train" consists of hard-hitting bass and snare, arpeggiated synth, sludgy guitar, and delayed, multi-tracked vocals. Here Come the Runts doesn't shine or resonate like Awolnation's previous material, though it is quite clear that Aaron Bruno's songwriting abilities are understated. His penchant for effortlessly combining bright melody and harmony with gritty distortion and towering walls of sound never ceases to entertain. ~ Rob Wacey
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