On its smashing debut LP “Ideal Cities,” out Tuesday, Baltimore’s Roomrunner has its way with the ghost of grunge, losing the gloom and machismo while keeping the headbanging riffs, adding triumphant pop hooks, and audibly having a blast.
Roomrunner’s members wear their influences on their sleeves, or, more accurately, their chests. At left, singer-guitarist Denny Bowen sports a shirt with the insignia of seminal Midwest space-rockers HUM. Onstage at Seattle’s Comet Tavern last November, bassist Dan Frome paid tribute to Pittsburgh math-punks Don Caballero in black Sharpie on a white tee. (Drummer Bret Lanahan and guitarist Jeff Byers round out the lineup.)
In a recent SPIN interview, Bowen even provided Cliffs Notes for “Ideal Cities,” specifying which Clinton-era outfit each of its nine songs wears. Names discussed included New York’s Chavez, Chicago’s Shellac, and a pair of Northwest acts: Nirvana, naturally, and Tumwater, Washington’s lesser-known — but no less great — KARP.
What makes Roomrunner special, however, is that they’re no mere throwback. In an age where seemingly every band playing tight, catchy, heavy music with guitars, bass and drums gets the ‘90s-nostalgia tag, they’re the genuine article, already writing songs as good — or better — than their predecessors.
“Bait Car” (listen) kicks off “Ideal Cities” with scalding-hot 7/8 riffage, and what follows — ear-splitting noise, quick-witted drum fills and a cyclical series of progressions, each more hummable than the last — serves as a manifesto for what’s to come.
The album’s fourth song, the mathy, mid-tempo “Wojtek,” is an immediate earworm, riding an off-kilter staccato groove to a jumbo-sized shoutalong. Next up is “Weird” (listen), a two-minute ripper that finds the group at its most direct and anthemic.
Despite some less tuneful moments (“Vaporize,” “May”), the half-hourlong set doesn’t meander. The band’s command over the melody/dissonance binary is particularly apparent on the record’s final salvo, the shoegaze-tinged “Apse” and feedback-laden “Snac Error.”
Altogether, “Ideal Cities” is as fun to listen to as one imagines it was to make. With its winning mix of past and present indie-alt-rock, Roomrunner seems primed for a breakout similar to what Toronto noisemongers METZ — the two bands share bills often on the East Coast — managed in 2012.
The dream of the ‘90s isn’t just alive, it’s thriving.
Stream the whole album here.