It’s tough to admit, but separation is crucial to great art. Think about it: as a solo act, you must consciously isolate yourself in order to create. If you’re in a band, you must converge from your various lives and responsibilities to then put little bits of yourselves into a collective entity. Separate, the new EP from Baltimore’s punk thrashers Roomrunner, is a meditative work on what separation means, as much it does to be apart as it does to understand something by dissecting it.
Roomrunner hasn’t released a new record since 2012’s terrific Ideal Cities. Since then, the foursome has pursued various projects and the domestic life; bassist Dan Frome and guitarist/vocalist Denny Bowen each toured with hometown pals Future Islands on their gargantuan tour earlier this year. Guitarist Jeff Byers and backing vocalist/drummer Bret Lenahan mostly stayed home in Baltimore, watching documentaries, working, settling down and cooking in crockpots, respectively.
Coming together on Separate, the band each brought fragments of songs forward and worked through them collectively. Produced by J. Robbins at the Magpie in Baltimore, the EP is more collaborative than the previous Bowen-masterminded releases, such as Ideal Cities and the 2012 Super Vague EP. The work is expansive, boasting colossal choruses (now featuring Lenahan shining on backing vocals, especially in “Ms DNA”) and more complicated dynamics, evident in the interplay of guitars and rubbery bass lines on “Chrono Trigger”, a nod to a ‘90s role-playing video game. But at its core, Separate is roughly 24 minutes of sweat and delirium and enlightenment.
Earlier this year, Bowen told me that what informed much of Separate was the tension of being displaced and feeling generally discombobulated. “I was between living situations, bouncing around, my shit in boxes. It was weird, a mix of being uncomfortable a lot and either channeling it or working through it,” he said. Bowen isn’t a pessimist so much as he is a realist; translated into song, it’s downright honest, especially on “Slow”, the record’s deepest breath, when he admits “And I feel nothing” repeatedly, both a mantra and an exorcism. While Separate aims to be bigger than the sound, the songs are appropriately more contemplative, digging through something instead of scratching at the surface. Words like “disappoint” and “nothing” pop up frequently; in this universe, time runs out and minds spill out.
The spectacular “Karn” is the record’s highlight and the hoppiest track Roomrunner’s ever penned, with Bowen yelping “Please don’t let me find them!” behind chugging guitars. But Separate is mostly a collection of autumnal songs. It’s fitting; the seasons are turning, and so is Roomrunner. The foursome have been performing together since the summer of 2012, but at this point they’re straddling two realms, between performing at hometown DIY venues and for possibly traversing into the big-time; this past winter, the guys opened for Superchunk, visited Steve Albini at the storied Electrical Audio and toured alongside psych-pop poster boy Mikal Cronin last year. Either way they go together, it’s sure to be loud and wondrous.