Album Review: Runaway Brother – Mother

With ‘Summer/Autumn’, Ohio’s Runaway Brother delivered one of 2014’s best singles. Charming, wonderfully off-kilter and with just enough hooks to dig its claws in and not let go, it was a triumph of left-field indie-pop/emo. Signing to Tiny Engines, home of The Hotelier, has done little to quell the buzz, making ‘Mother’ one of 2015’s most eagerly awaited albums so far.

However, instead of being cowed by the weight of expectation, Runaway Brother have created a record that’s bigger in every possible way. The hooks are sharper, the lyrics more twisted and neurotic, the music more challenging and idiosyncratic.

In fact, perhaps Runaway Brother’s greatest triumph is that in pushing their sound they’ve created an album that is fantastically accessible and enjoyable but which never plays to its audience. Instead, it’s packed with character that sweeps you along in its vibrancy.

Mother by Runaway Brother

From the off, it is clear Jacob Lee wants to tell you a story. Heavy with imagery and quick to deliver a smart turn of phrase, he yelps, croons and muses so quick it’s a wonder his thoughts can keep up with his delivery. It means there’s easy comparisons with Say Anything’s Max Bemis, Motion City Soundtrack’s Justin Pierre or The Format’s Nate Reuss – and if you’re fans of any of those you will adore Runaway Brother – but that only really explains half of the appeal. The other lies in the group’s consistently excellent song structures and constantly playful nature.

Opener ‘Harvest’ is a slow-burning set-up that explodes two-thirds of the way through, while ‘Moth’ is a considerably more direct and traditional pop punk cut. Such genre-hopping makes pigeonholing Runaway Brother somewhat futile – especially when they career into instrumental interludes, brief flashes of lounge jazz and the odd moment of math-rock. That it works is frightening; that it actually sounds natural and unforced is frequently astonishing. Of course, the danger is the songs get lost to the showmanship but such odd tangents – like the crazy banjo line on ‘Youniverse’ or the almost 70’s disco break harmony on ‘Catch’ – just ratchet up the charm.

Naturally, it’s a difficult balance to strike, so it’s to Runaway Brother’s credit that they never plummet into a musical mess. Instead, songs such as ‘Hold Me Down’ and ‘Reprise’ play things much straighter and keep proceedings on an even keel.

However, with so much constantly going on, and with so much demanding your attention throughout, for all its accessibility and breezy hooks, ‘Mother’ is not an album that can be easily digested over a couple of listens. Instead, it make you work a little for its affections – but songs such as ‘False Halo’ and ‘Makes You Happy’ are hugely rewarding once you invest the time in them.

It means that, for some, ‘Mother’ might be divisive. For me, it’s akin to being smashed over the head with a kaleidoscope. And I love it.

4/5

‘Mother’ by Runaway Brother is out now on Tiny Engines.

Runaway Brother links: Facebook|Twitter|Bandcamp

Words by Rob Mair (@BobNightMair)

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