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Roomrunner - Ideal Cities

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Artist: Roomrunner

Album: Ideal Cities

Label: Fan Death

Review date: May. 31, 2013

Baltimore art-punk trio Double Dagger was notorious for their in-your-face live shows wherein singer Nolen Strals would break the fourth wall and often perform half of the set from the middle of the floor. Yet, when they called it quits in 2011, Strals’s boldest statement at their final shows wasn’t in the form of a stage dive or an uncomfortably close encounter with an audience member (although those happened, too). Rather, he challenged the audience to form their own groups and become something even better. Whether Double Dagger will become a mid-Atlantic Velvet Underground is unclear, but there’s at least one person who took the advice to heart: the man sitting behind Strals on the drum kit.

The Natty Boh had barely evaporated from the Ottobar floor before Denny Bowen’s new project, Roomrunner, gave the dedicated fanbase a six-song EP to soothe the sting of the Double Dagger split. Its efficacy was mostly due to taking a decided departure from Double Dagger’s low-end aesthetic while remaining dissonant and noisy. For one thing, the self-titled and Super Vague EPs established Roomrunner as a guitar band, burying Bowen’s vocals under reverb and squealing electric strings. As such, the band usually mentioned in the same breath as Roomrunner is Nirvana.

Debut LP Ideal Cities is still abrasive, but the noisiness is less the result of reverb and more from pushing the guitars to the limits of their tonality. This shift first became apparent when they released album highlight “Weird” as a single and that harsh, jagged opening riff burned itself into the brains of all who listened. “Weird” is Roomrunner at their primal peak, yet it’s oddly anthemic, escalating until Bowen strips his already spread-thin voice raw screaming, “But you don’t know!” before the song screeches to a halt.

The album is chock full of atonal moments giving way to accessible head nodding riffs, even if no other song has quite the thrill of “Weird.” Some songs come close, like penultimate track “Apse,” which turns an unlistenably screechy intro into a fist pumper with a hooky chorus and a better bridge. “Apse” and “Weird” are also notable for the sense of tongue-in-cheek humor that emerges in the lyrics with lines, “It’s not interesting” on the former and “Now the future’s fucking weird for you” on the latter.

Bowen’s sense of humor had previously been buried along with his vocals on the EPs and while it’s great to hear what he has to say, the occasionally strained and nasal delivery can overshadow the message. Additionally, sometimes the Nirvana comparison is too strong to ignore, especially during the first half of the album. “Duno” starts out sounding an awful lot like “Lithium,” and even when the guitar riff veers into different territory, there’s a distinct 1990s high school vibe.

But there are worse things to say about bands than that they sound like the biggest crossover and critical successes of the past 20 years. This isn’t the album that’s going to vault Roomrunner to that kind of success, but they do have a chance to eclipse Double Dagger’s cult success with this careening joyride of an album.

By Valerie Paschall

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