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Roomrunner -- 'Roomrunner' (Fan Death)( Handout )
RATING: *** out of 4
With an endless supply of sludgy riffs and soloing theatrics, "Ideal Cities" -- the debut album from crusty Baltimore quartet Roomrunner -- is the best guitar-driven album of the year.
The singer/songwriter responsible for the relentless six-string work, on top of the deceptively catchy melodies, is Denny Bowen, drummer of the defunct post-punk trio Double Dagger. "Ideal Cities" is the group's debut album, and its potent onslaught of '90s-inspired alternative rock could make a listener wonder if Bowen should have emerged from behind the drum kit sooner.
Running just over a half an hour, "Ideal Cities" works quickly to solidify the band's identity as a loud, blue-collar quartet while providing enough twists and turns (the bouncy, Washington Capitals-inspired "Wojtek," the swirling, loud-and-soft dynamics of "Duno") to avoid predictability.
Roomrunner members have been labeled grunge revivalists by fawning national outlets, including Pitchfork and Spin. There's no denying "Ideal Cities" has a sense of nostalgia to it -- Bowen has cited influences that range from the Jesus Lizard to Sebadoh to Sonic Youth -- but this is not the work of a band pantomiming in flannel. Roomrunner's members may have a soft spot for the DIY bands they listened to in high school, but they're old enough, and clever enough, to create something new here. The result is a compulsively listenable mash-up of sticky hooks and riffs that could inspire a new generation to pick up a guitar.
While there's a lot to instantly like about "Ideal Cities," it's Bowen's lyrics that might take longer to parse. Closer examination reveals a lyricist uninterested in linear storytelling. Instead, we get non-sequiturs tangled in malaise: "Be aurally Oedipal, be orally edible -- it's not interesting," Bowen sings on "Apse." Where Bowen's lyrics lack clarity, the music he and his band made here does not. -- Wesley Case