It’s frankly astonishing that Awolnation are still making music at all. There’s not a chance that they’re ever going to surpass or even match that indie ubiquity of Sail and, to a lesser extent, its album Megalithic Symphony, but when Run underwhelmed and Here Come The Runts was better but still kind of forgettable, what’s left is a project that’s treading water faster than it can suitably maintain. That’s all underscored by the fact that Aaron Bruno is a talented artist, but he’s found so few outlets to display the extent of that talent that any attention that should be paid to it has fallen to the wayside. It’s why Angel Miners & The Lightning Riders seems to be arriving without so much as an introduction for itself; The Best might have been doing well on US alternative charts, but you’d still be hard pressed to find many people who actually know there’s an album attached to it. And to an extent, that does make covering this album feel a bit pointless when Awolnation have subsequently and knowingly become such an insignificant part of the indie-pop furniture, but maybe it’s the fleeting hope that Bruno can finally find his spark that warrants coming back. After all, he’s four albums deep at this point, and the law of averages would dictate that surely he’s due something of note here.
But that’s not what this is, and the benefit of hindsight should’ve been enough to nail that down pretty much immediately after this album was announced. And that’s because Awolnation, indeed, an indie-rock act with a synthetic bent, the exact description that can be attributed to Imagine Dragons and their continuous infection throughout alternative music that saps away anything potentially colourful or vital. It’s not like that would’ve been the case without such a profound strong-arming in the background – and it is true that Angel Miners… is a better version of it on the whole – but this really is an album catered to meeting the rubric held so dear by format-dependent ‘alternative’ scenes, and a couple of okay outliers aren’t enough to sway that the other way.
It goes without saying, then, that Awolnation are far from hitting creative peaks on Angel Miners…, but to Bruno’s credit, he’s able to do at least a bit more with the limited tools at his disposal. The juddering bombast of The Best is pretty good, as is the post-chorus sizzle of Slam (Angel Miners) with its buzzing synth oscillations and dripping keys that are almost reminiscent of Billie Eilish song in how simultaneously implacable and minimal it all feels. At the same time though, Lightning Riders and California Halo Blue mine the usual combination of a drained mix and lumbering progressions to show how, despite the flashes of pulling the sound in a different direction, this is still an indie-rock album in the post-Imagine Dragons era. It just becomes irritating how predictable that is as well, whether that’s how muted and blurry anything approaching a real rock breakdown is on Mayday!!! Fiesta Fever and I’m A Wreck (because God forbid something like this can actually sound like rock music), or how Pacific Coast Highway In The Movies appropriately sounds like a late-period Weezer song in its lazy saunter through an overproduced haze, given that Rivers Cuomo actually features on it. Even Bruno himself is really struggling to get much personality across in his vocals here, and that really just ties together how forgettable this album is. There’s not all that much that’s identifiable from song to song, and when that comes as just another casualty of a contemporary indie-rock mould that prioritises clattering size over lithe hookcraft or basic memorability, Awolnation just feel like another product off the same production line as everyone else.
Granted, they’ve been gradually sliding away from the level of variety shown on Megalithic Symphony for years now and that was never going to change here. But at the very least, something beyond a few tweaks could’ve been done to make this distinct. Of all acts, Awolnation have the capacity the do something interesting with a sound like this, so to see them defaulting with barely any resistance shown is incredibly disappointing. And while Awolnation’s lyricism has never been stellar, Angel Miners… puts in a similarly lacklustre effort, this time flitting between broad alternative stereotypes and the loosest possible narrative about battling sides of good and evil in the human mind. It’s worth getting out of the way immediately that the latter really isn’t worth caring about; there’s barely any detail in Lightning Riders or I’m A Wreck anyway, but they barely stick around and are prime candidates to completely fall from memory as soon as the album is over. At least those flashes of effort are revived elsewhere, with Mayday!!! Fiesta Fever actually presenting a more visceral side to the outsiders anthem (which is later dropped completely on Radical), and California Angel Blue being about a fire that destroyed Bruno’s Malibu studio is at least unique to him in subject matter. And again, that’s all cast off for The Best or Half Italian to reduce their concepts down for optimum radio-friendliness, and subsequently contribute to how little of an impression that this album leaves.
That’s really Angel Miners…’ biggest sin; it’d be one thing to just play to the Imagine Dragons template, but to leave it in such a flat-out boring state as this accomplishes nothing and wears that fact on its sleeve. It mightn’t be Awolnation’s worst effort (that’s still Run, for the record), but it might be their most pointless, coming at a time when it’s not needed, where no one wants it or even knows it exists, and doing nothing of note to try and reverse the effects of either of those facts. Like most of Awolnation’s work, no one will remember this in a few months’ time; even the best moments aren’t worth keeping around too long, and when something like that actually needs to be iterated, there’s no hope here.
For fans of: Imagine Dragons, Grouplove, New Politics
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Angel Miners & The Lightning Riders’ by Awolnation is out now on Better Noise Records.