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Album Review: Middle Distance Runner – The Sun and Earth

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D.C.’s Middle Distance Runner is going big for round two. The Sun and Earth is a second try at larger than life rock for the band, and what we have is now a little ballsier, and more adventurously retro. It’s a final product that outshines the first and could put this band in the right place for a big response. You also start the see the bands style split, and when they hit, they really hit, but the other side of the coin isn’t so bright.

Stylistically, Sun and Earth is all over the map. At its core we have a smattering of old school style from blues to folk. On top of that, however, are influences that can only be found in the past decade. It’s a uniquely modern record that tries to flesh out a common thread, but by leaving the thread frayed a bit, you end up with some startling but positive contrasts in MDR’s rock. It’s pretty obvious though where these guys are most comfortable and make the best music, and sometimes going big for them doesn’t necessarily spell success.

The hints of roots music are all over this record. The blues/gospel of “The Unbeliever “ brings up a southern revival with its harmonies and organ screaming along as they sing “Hallelujah”. It’s easily one of the best on the record. Tender and sweet, “The Fury” brings in a country element with slides and twang. A little bit of soul finds itself in Stephen Kilroy’s falsetto with claps keeping the beat with the bluesy piano. They’re a brilliant set of songs that really flex some serious musical muscle.

When the more modern tracks make it out, they do so in the most anthemic way possible. Album opener, and title track, spins the feeling of homesickness into an Arcade Fire like madness. That same thread is found again on “Round Here”, with chorus line chants and crashing cymbals all making for an over the top anthem.  This is also where things get shaky.

These larger than life tracks are what filled their debut, but really, it’s why it fell flat. You can appreciate where they are coming from, but those are not the tracks that excite, and honestly, they don’t feel very real. There are a hundred other bands trying to do what has already been beaten to a pulp by this point, and when MDR do it, it’s no different. Even the hazy horns of slowed down “Palindrome” don’t quite cut it. It’s not that these guys can’t write a slower song, this just isn’t it for them.

The best tracks are saved for last here with “Brother John” bringing back out the southern jam session with a scorching slide. “Let Nothin In” is a playful country gospel that sounds like they hit record on the deck and just let the notes fly. These are the genuine moments that I look forward to with this band. It’s what they’re best at, and I’m not sure why they don’t do it more often.

This band really wants to break out. You can hear it with every catchy note and hook. They are also trying damn hard to hold on to their individuality. You end up with blend of pop rock that still wants to be a little out there. The ending of “Sundays are Hell” or all of “Joyful Noise”, even the country of “Let Nothin In” is off kilter from what the band spends most of its time doing, but in a very good way. It’s as if they are fighting to play one sound, but really, they need to go the other way. There’s some real stand out tracks on this record, but instead of running with that energy, it’s as if they are fighting against it. Don’t fight it guys, and next time you’ll have your ace-in-the-hole.


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The Sun and Earth Album Review: Middle Distance Runner   The Sun and Earth

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