ARTIST: Jeff Runnings
RELEASE: Primitives And Smalls
RELEASE DATE: 06/05/16
RECORD COMPANY: Saint Marie Records
What is there to say of Jeff Runnings? Where do you start? Perhaps you could start with a backward leap through history, into Orwell’s favourite visionary period; 1984. In the year when Big Brother was supposed to be watching, a band named Glue formed in the Midwest of America. After a while various musicians came and went, leaving the band as a trio and a year later the band had changed its name to For Against and had begun constructing one of the most influential and interesting albums in the history of Western alternative music. The album, Echelons, combined the underground climate of 1980’s post-punk with the emerging status of dream pop, and added an edge of originality that set the band apart from other acts tidal-waving in from England, who had the momentum of indie record labels behind them in their home country, unlike For Against. The album is of such prodigious influence that its artistic statement is still relevant to the point where bands who don’t know of For Against are still influenced by them… A representation of how ahead of its time and ground breaking the album was. The band would go on to release more albums, but the line-up altered and the commercial presence, despite critical acclaim, of the bands releases saw them slowly lose momentum (and then gain it again when their albums were reissued in the early 2000’s). Amongst all of this though, the puppet master; who was pulling the strings, singing the songs, strumming the bass and crafting the lyrics forged his background presence as one of the most underrated song-writers of all time… And his name was Jeff Runnings.
Runnings has been back at it again, this time solo, and his debut album, Primitives and Smalls is being released through prestigious alternative label Saint Marie Records. On this outing Runnings has cooked up a tasty treat, with a flicker of the past, a dash of influence, a spoonful of retro and a pinch of his own talented and unique song-writing skills. The album opens with ‘Maze’, with its retro and heavy drum machine that beats with a hint of trip-hop, accompanied by a floundering guitar tone and beautiful, dreamy synths that creep through the entire album. The lyrics sound like a tip to the past For Against, a recurring tribute on the album, and Runnings echoing vocals sound at a similar frequency of a spoken word artist. On the following track ‘F for Emphasis’ Runnings brings back the soft and wistful guitar and bass tones of classic post-punk, adding an element of cold wave to the background sound with a distant production style. The drums replicate that of ‘Maze’ with a slower trip hop element to them. Unlike the opener this track is much slower and swinging; sounding of cold wave kings Asylum Party. The next track, ‘Dim like Dusk’ is perhaps the albums weakest and most bland track, and highlights the problem that dream pop acts face… And that is keeping each song unique; in this case ‘Dim like Dusk’ seems clichéd. ‘Aperitif’ is a neat instrumental-interlude piece that fits ideally in the track list of the album.
The album continues with the stellar down tempo track ‘Premium’ which showcases Runnings neat lyrical skills. The beautiful chorus ‘what’s it like to be locked inside of you?’ balances the swirling backing music and evokes a stare-at-your-shoes mood that toys well with the soaring dream pop noise. Another great track ‘Trifecta’ utilizes a fantastic piano line that is slowly drowned out by brooding synths. It is the ultimate artistic portrait of dreamlike pondering, the song where Runnings stares at the clouds and hums lyrics about the past, love, the essence of confrontation and the concept of songs carved and forged that are much too distinctive or breathtakingly beautiful to put on record. The song rolls on slowly over and over, trancing the listener in the dreamiest possible way. ‘Miss Magic Maker’ is another sweet instrumental, this time rising up as more of an up-beat sound than the interlude mentioned before. ‘Travelogue’ is the most prominent and genius use of echo on the album, the production on this song is pristine, and the simple drum beat returns Runnings to the post-punk sound he expressed previously on the beginning of the album.
It’s interesting to listen to this album because, put simply, it sounds classic… Without being classic. It’s confusing, like Runnings has pulled an elaborate and skilful con on the listener by releasing something both fresh and sentimental in the same space. The 1980’s run concurrently with fresh trip-hop infused drum machines, the echoing vocals contrast with neatly polished synths and the sound of the past lives on in the post-punk sound of the album while mixing itself with a washed and re-strung dream pop tone. Thankfully, Runnings still has a way with lyrics and demonstrates so on almost every track on the album. The synths should be highly commended, as should the production of the album, which presents the elegant sound featured on many of the tracks.
Sure, some tracks sound similar and there are weaker tracks… And for those who don’t frequently indulge in the realm of dream pop or post-punk, the album may be too distant for your liking. But all in all, the entire album is solid, well written, well produced, and well structured. What is this album? It is a reminder of influence… And it’s the reason why Jeff Runnings is the king in the land of dream pop and a polished image of his very own kingdom.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
C. Phillips is a writer and above all, a music lover, who seeks to gain experience through writing and listening. He is also an avid film viewer and art and literature junkie who enjoys creative writing. His most recent published work was featured on the Australian heavy music blog, I Probably Hate Your Band.