The four-and-a-half years which elapsed since Run Dan Run's 2007 debut, Basic Mechanics, served the Charleston, S.C., band well. Basic Mechanics showed promise, sure, but too often let itself drift out of focus. Normal, the band's follow-up, offers both a refinement of songwriting and an expansion of sonic scope.
From the opening salvo of "Lovesick Animal" (which follows a brief intro of cymbal flurries and yawning horns), RDR makes it clear that its sights are set on large stages. Suggesting the intimate chamber folk of David Karsten Daniels and the lush, bombastic pop of Broken Social Scene, the song's rush of woodwinds and "yeah-yeah-yeah" backing vocals are the type of moves that might've felt forced or heavy-handed in the past but, here, make for a thrilling rush. The band keeps up that energy on songs like the smoldering "Box-Type Love" and the synth-stirred "Anonymous Girl," but also manages to maintain interest through slower tunes. The spare "Gestures & Patterns" leans on a snaking guitar line and band leader Dan McCurry's voice bobs with a Malkmusian deadpan, while "Spelling Words" glides along cymbal rides and sheets of guitar and horns.
Fitting RDR's ambitious arrangements, McCurry's relationship-centered lyrics offer enough detail to suggest a real-life inspiration but remain ambiguous to ensure listeners can apply the songs to their own needs. Whether by intention, or merely by inclination, RDR crafted an album that sounds poised for wide acceptance. It's easy to say it's the band's best album, but that doesn't say enough. Run Dan Run now bears the expectation of success.
Hearts and Plugs; Release date: Jan. 10, 2012