Waiting to Wake Up: AWOLNATION and Cultural Moments

Aaron Bruno makes nightmares. Well, more accurately, AWOLNATION – the we’re-screaming-at-you-on-Twitter moniker that stands in for Bruno and his hired electronic muscle – makes nightmares. Not the disturbing and willfully repellent sort that David Lynch cooked up on his too deliberate Crazy Clown Time, but the kind that rock traditionalists gawk at when their industrial spires hover grimly over an NBA on TNT broadcast. Think Fall Out Boy’s most current interpretation of what will move records – you know, the iteration of the band that recorded a batch of songs against a green screen to try and make blockbusters – and you’re about a quarter of the way to AWOLNATION. Aaron Bruno is similarly transfixed by the form of pop-EDM disambiguation that appears on FOB’s American Beauty/American Psycho as well as Imagine Dragon’s most successful boardroom singles, but it’s Bruno alone who consciously attempts to engage fully with the “darkness” the scene he’s hawking unabashedly embraces. That he decisively fails to do so is precisely beside the point.

“You can’t feel an uplifting emotion unless you’ve felt darkness,” Bruno recently told Phil Harrison in an interview conducted AWOLNATION’s own label’s site, RedBull.com. “My favourite music has always been music where you feel like some sort of victory has been arrived at through struggle.” He’s answering a perfectly lobbed question while standing next to a 5-foot hoop, but Bruno still manages to divulge something revealing despite the circumstances. Much of the darkness on his band’s newest release, Run, which came out yesterday, comes from the way Bruno’s voice is layered on certain songs to make it sound like every stadium rock icon from the past 47 years is howling up at us through his production from a minimized iTunes app. The victory he’s claiming, however, only comes when Bruno plays these songs for people who only know Axl Rose as a punchline.

What makes Run such a blast to listen to loudly is also what primarily makes it less than gratifying to discuss. The people Bruno has curated these nightmares to offend are, at this point, made primarily of straw. Watching him take aim can be thrilling, a warped sporting event unto itself, but sticking around to see what he hits will likely make you feel bad for cheering.

Take the album’s only real single, “Hollow Moon (Bad Wolf)”, where Bruno bemoans all the “copy cats and lazy brats” he’s been forced to listen to since his debut, Megalithic Symphony, dropped four years ago before screaming, suddenly and from a club-side gutter, about how those same four years were a time of personal liberation. It’s not that Bruno doesn’t have a point, he does; Imagine Dragons rose from the ashes of Symphony and got to sample that album’s sounds in a commercial for Beats headphones starring Lebron James – it’s just that his point feels dulled by the passage of time. This decade’s cultural moments, especially the ones that condense anywhere in the vicinity of a Dayglo waistline, are constantly evaporating, and Run sounds like it should have come out the day after Kendrick Lamar remixed “Radioactive”. Instead, it’s come out now, with nothing from that moment left to push back against, no context to provide for friction, which is why this particular collection of songs ends up sounding more like AWOLNATION label mates Innerpartysystem’s bland electro-protest rumble than whatever Bruno might’ve been going for when he started recording. Run represents what happens to a cultural moment when it’s deprived of any heat.

But it’s here now, so listen to Run loud and let it block out the sun. And go see AWOLNATION on May 10th at the Susquehanna Bank Center as the most recently-announced guests for the Radio 104.5 Birthday Show.

1 Comment

  1. Lauren Silvestri

    May 3, 2015 at 9:04 pm

    I love the song “I Am” from this album, but I think you make a really good point about how he
    consciously attempts to engage fully with the “darkness” and fails to do so completely.

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