If you can imagine a band that sounds like a hybrid of bits and bytes and harmonies and melodies coming from the likes of Devo, Foster the People, Lorde, Rage Against the Machine, Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark, The Beach Boys and Muse, you might be able to come up with at least the beginning of an AWOLNATION song. Part pop, part rock, part electronica, part alternative, part retro, part futuristic and almost always hypnotically mesmerizing, AWOLNATION’s slippery sound defies easy categorization.
And it turns out that the band best known for the Top 20 hit “Sail” back in 2011 is just as hard to pin down lyrically.
One of the few unambiguously positive moments on Run turns up when “I Am” talks about feeling lonely and isolated and beginning to understand that those struggles are an important part of our identity (“All of these things make me who I am”).
Then we’re left to grapple with whether it’s good or bad that frontman and founder Aaron Bruno repeatedly confesses, “I am a human being, capable of doing terrible things.” We get a clue in the last line when he warns, “You people are mistaken if you think that I’m awake and celebrating anything that I’ve become.” I suppose it’s not a surprise when he then bluntly suggests that we “Run.” Likewise, is it a positive thing that a man’s soul seems anchored even if his body isn’t (“Off in my head, lost in my head/Lost are my arms, lost are my legs/Lost is my heart, but my new soul stays”)? “Windows” also ponders life’s mysteries with the question, “Do we really know the way the wind blows?”
“Headrest for My Soul” is a complicated track that seems to acknowledge a man’s need for help and rescue (“There’s a leak in this boat/Someone toss me a rope/And a headrest, headrest for my soul”) even as he fears the boat might sink before help arrives. “Fat Face” juxtaposes a man’s intent to wait for his beloved (“I walk to the rhythm of your heart/ … I will wait for you”) against life’s external and internal hurts (“But I’m still bitter at the bullies in the park/ … A memory full, but the soul is incomplete”). “Dreamers” proclaims, “At this point in my life I’d rather die than lie to you.” And the oddly titled “Holy Roller” pleads for emotional connection (“Tell me where you hide, tell you where I bleed/Maybe I’m too shy, I need your love”).
“Jailbreak” perhaps plots a way to break free from a binding, unhealthy fantasy (“Now I’m living in a dream/And I don’t think I’m ever going to wake up/Ah, ah/See, I’ve been working on a jailbreak”). And “Drinking Lightning” could be heard as a cautionary tale about a man having an affair. After hearing about an illicit interlude (“The touch of your soft face/In front of a fireplace/ … If the phone rings/Tell him nothing”), we’re clued in to the resulting heartbreak (“Now the pain cries/Down a cheek it dries/ … When my eyes sting/Where my heart sinks/There will be no strings/We’re drinking lightning”).
Lines on “Like People, Like Plastic” seem to lament disposable relationships and even honestly ask God if that was His intent (“Don’t look here, too graphic/Like people, like plastic/So dance in the madness/Oh Lord, did you plan this?”). But …
… that song concludes nihilistically with, “Burn the bloody house down/It’s good/So long, flesh/So long/ … F—/F— your ghost.” Elsewhere on the album, we also hear “b–ch” and “h—.”
Wordplay referencing Jesus’ instructions is cryptic and perhaps cynical on “Lie Love Live Love” (“Lie love, live love, lie, love thy neighbor”). Campy, cheeky horror permeates “Hollow Moon (Bad Wolf),” where a man confronting his fears finds that he’s now headless (“This happened, literally, I woke up, I was headless”). He plots to “make a deal with the bad wolf so the bad wolf don’t bite no more,” then threatens, “M—–f—er, I’ll be back from the dead soon/ … Oh, oh god, I think I might have made a mistake.” Meanwhile, the frenetic “Kookseverywhere!!!” cynically cries, “I know that love is a terrible, terrible thing.” That song also paints this troubling picture: “The gold, cold thunder hole in her chest, yeah/The rubies and gold are from the hole in her chest, yeah/ … Baby/It’s cold blood, cold blood.” On “Windows,” there’s this repeated, dark line: “Off in the red, dance, dance with the dead.” It concludes, “But I’m aware, and I don’t care.”
Sexually suggestive moments turn up on “Jailbreak” (“Insecurity beside me/But you tasted so inviting”) and “Woman Woman” (“Be my woman, woman/Won’t you see me in the dark?”). Also in the latter song, a brokenhearted man thinks, “I may be worthless without you.”
“Dreamers” defiantly tells us, “I’m gonna swim in hell, I’ve got a rebel yell.” And we hear this: “Now I’ve got nine bloody dreamers on the dance floor.”
Run often sounds like an auditory Rorschach test. While there are some obviously positive moments and quite a few equally obviously problematic ones, more often than not the vibe is so whimsical as to be obtuse. On “Hollow Moon (Bad Wolf),” for instance, we hear, “The earth below is above my feet when the clock is laughing at me.” Which is exactly how I felt trying to pin down this album’s true meaning before my publication deadline.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.