Photo courtesy of the band's Facebook page
Maybe you haven’t heard of All These Runners. Two years ago, the Milwaukee trio of Tony Hunt, John Kim and Rusty Edlund released its first full-length, Rise Run Fall Sleep, to little local fanfare. Indebted to the influences of mid-aughts indie heavyweights such as Wolf Parade and Arcade Fire, the band describes itself as “epic in mind and pop at heart.” While Rise was a little heavy on the “epic” part, All These Runners has quietly returned with one of this year’s best local records in Vacation Days; a starry-eyed indie rock opus that balances “epic” with edgy pop, achieving its lofty ambitions with relentless energy and a fierce conviction in its own angst.
This album’s aspiration runs deeper than the melodic acrobatics and unflinching drum patterns that nonetheless place it on the ballot for pop perfection. Because while those elements are there, and they are undeniably top-notch, the thing that makes Vacation Days interesting is a bit more difficult to define, even though it’s apparent after exactly three minutes and three seconds of listening. That’s when slow-burning opener “Post Rock” gives way to a cavernous web of synths and palpable low-end into which the group shouts, “I know we’re gonna try / I know we’re gonna die / I know we’re gonna be there when the dancers come alive.” It’s a heart-in-your-throat combination of production savvy and carpe diem sentiment, delivered with the tight-jawed certainty of religious zealots. That breathless energy is the driving force behind Vacation Days, and All These Runners – in a fashion worthy of its name – maintains it from start to finish without ever sounding winded or forced.
Following the relatively slow-building “Post Rock,” the band uncorks a seemingly endless line of fiercely catchy indie rock bangers. On “Heart Attack,” the album’s best song, lead singer Tony Hunt advances the album’s never-say-die manifesto, vowing “I’ll get out of this town / I will, I will” over the surgical precision of Russell Edlund’s drumming and John Kim’s stuttering bass guitar. “In The Water” daydreams about a former love, driven by a submarine bass line and winding guitar melody. Halfway through the album, you might wish dancy nugget “All Night” were longer and the meandering “Maybe One Day” were shorter, but neither forfeit any of the album’s momentum. While the eight-minute “Maybe One Day” feels like the album’s climax, the three songs tucked behind it have hooks to spare – including restless “The Kill” and the crescendoing “Way You Move.”
The adjectives “epic” and “intense” get tossed around a lot these days, usually to slam a quick lid on a conversation. As empty as those words have begun to sound, I apply them to Vacation Days without hesitation. It’s big, it’s beautiful, and it believes in what it has to say; or rather, needs to say – practically foams at the mouth to say – about what it’s like to be in your mid-twenties in 2012. It is hopeful but urgent, youthful but jaded, sentimental but weird. And more importantly, beyond all the stuffy “music critique” jargon, it’s extremely catchy and fun to dance to. Even though it’s only the band’s second release, All These Runners seems to come into Vacation Days with its back to the ropes and gloves up, throwing punches with nothing to lose… and the result is a knockout.