words: Gordon Phillips
Runaway Brother’s lead singer, Jacob Lee, has a Poliwhirl tattoo on the inside of his right bicep. For those unfamiliar, Poliwhirl is a water-type Pokémon that, with the advent of Gen2 (Gold, Silver and Crystal Versions), gained the relatively unique ability to evolve into one of two distinct Stage 2 evolutions at the decision and manipulation of its trainer. In that regard, Poliwhirl presents a false dichotomy, a phantom fork in the proverbial evolutionary road—should the trainer choose to evolve their Poliwhirl into Poliwrath, to evolve into Politoed or not to evolve at all? Is choosing to maintain a Poliwhirl even a strategically viable decision given the clear stat deficit sure to emerge as a result of continuing to develop as a Stage 1 Pokémon into later levels clearly meant for Stage 2 evolutions?
Runaway Brother’s sound deftly navigates a similarly false dichotomy. The band’s feloniously underrated 2015 full-length, Mother, was full of tightly arranged vocal harmonies and massively infectious hooks, clearly reminiscent of a certain set of genres while the record’s robust instrumental arrangements would seemingly pull the band other directions entirely. Meanwhile, Jacob Lee’s songwriting similarly diverged from any categorical paths presumed by the instrumentation, navigating topics firmly juxtaposed with the often-jubilant musical backdrop. Music commentators dutifully knee-jerk clamored to label the band in every direction conceivable. However, as evinced by their latest single (and like the beauty of an un-evolved Poliwhirl), Runaway Brother’s continued refusal to pigeonhole their sound or self-assign a genre is one of the band’s best traits.
After what truly seemed like an eternity, Runaway Brother announced the February 16, 2018 release date of their second full-length, New Pocket, as well as the album’s first single, “Paws.”
“Paws” opens with a melancholy chord progression before the rest of the band plods into view alongside it. Bassist Ian Lee’s trademark harmony line quickly emerges like a long-lost cousin while lead guitarist and keyboardist Charlie “Yeah, rip it, Chuck” Gunn alternates between tremolo-laden lead parts and shimmering keyboard chords. It’s probably worth mentioning that Chuck does end up ripping it (a few times, for the sake of accuracy).
“I just need some good news,” sings Jacob Lee prior to the first ripping. The “good news” is that Runaway Brother is back and that they’ve gotten even better at what they do—whatever you want to call that, if you must call it anything at all. If “Paws” is any indicator as to the rest of New Pocket, the band has developed and refined their brand of genre-repellant pop music (a genre, but whatever).
Possession of an un-evolved Poliwhirl is, in and of itself, a statement. Fortunately for Runaway Brother’s patient listeners and new fans alike, it’s a statement Runaway Brother is comfortable and adept in making—we don’t have to be anything we don’t want to be. New Pocket is available for pre-order via Tiny Engines.