By now, giving the finger to one establishment or another is a tried-and-true publicity method for the punk-inclined. Chicago’s Running is building hype by flipping off the hype machine itself—they have no Facebook, no Twitter, no Tumblr. Their website consists of a plain-text show schedule, a list of releases, and a Pizza Hut advertisement. I found one interview, which offers only first names, jocular nondisclosure à la Lou Reed, a dose of punk-rock hyperbole, and a skeletal, strungout description of the band’s beginnings. Their Castle Face debut is titled Vaguely Ethnic—a phrase that communicates nothing, then looks smugly around to see who’s offended. It’s a game of “I’m not touching you” for grown-ups.
Nearly all of the writing out there on Running uses the word “noise,” a word that makes people either cringe or salivate. There is definitely noise involved on Vaguely Ethnic, but it’s mostly textural, a matter of the amps being turned up to 11. The songs are clearly and often predictably structured—what moments of actual dissonance there are pass quickly and act more as garnish than as meat. Important to note, here, that the song entitled “Controversial PR” is by far the noisiest and most dissonant.
The vocalist offers a snarly, trebly bark, buried in reverb—Johnny Rotten as the Wizard of Oz. You can hear it most clearly in “Oo0o Oo0O Oo0oOo,” whose backbeat quotes The Chantays’ “Pipeline” to pretty comical effect. Some of the more spacious moments (“This Is A You Problem,” “Employment Vows”) reminded me of Comets On Fire, whose 2004 Blue Cathedral still causes me the most delightful problems. At other moments, the repetitiousness of Vaguely Ethnic wore me down. When times got particularly dark I was reminded of Korn— with a less tasteful guitar tone, the riff on “Endless Baggage” could have been theirs. But in Running’s defense, I only thought about Korn that one time.
Also in Running’s defense, 10 AM in a coffee shop is not the time and place for this music. This music is not made for the “coffee” part of the day, when one is waking up and the world is making more sense instead of less. If it was the witching hour, and I was flailing around in a moshpit, not knowing what the songs were called or making any attempt to parse out the lyrics, influences, and intentions, I’d be thinking about this music very differently. This music is definitely made for the “beer” part of the day.