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Retirement Party - Runaway Dog Music Album Reviews

Avery Springer and her bandmates grow into a bigger, bolder sound on their second album, pushing beyond obvious hooks and taking new risks with their songwriting.

The song titles on Retirement Party’s second album read like a checklist of responsibilities on the path to maturity, each a bit more dispiriting than the last: “Runaway Dog,” “Compensation,” “Old Age.” By the time we reach “I Wonder if They Remember You,” it can be hard to recall that the band’s primary lyricist, Avery Springer, is barely out of college. But even on their debut LP, 2018’s Somewhat Literate, adult obligations loomed in the background, anxieties spurred by the expectations that set in when college finals give way to job applications. The standout song on that record, the blown-out “Passion Fruit Tea,” offered jamming with friends as a respite to the drudgery of work. But two years later, having graduated with a degree in music business, Springer has an understandably more jaded outlook. Her newfound angst is palpable on Runaway Dog, channeled via slick, outsized refrains.
Runaway Dog pursues a more atmospheric and anthemic sound than Retirement Party’s debut, one that doesn’t lean on an onslaught of immediate hooks. This might be a result of the record’s more collaborative process, with drummer James Ringness and bassist/guitarist Eddy Rodriguez providing input from the beginning, rather than simply coming in to record Springer’s fully conceived songs.
The resulting melodies are more patient, their progressions more meandering and less obvious. On “Fire Blanket,” which opens with distorted power chords punctuated by blasts from the drums, it takes almost 30 seconds for Springer to start singing; for a band whose biggest singles previously featured her voice within the first beat or two, it’s a sign of restraint. A gleaming new guitar melody introduced in the second verse propels the song to the final refrain with a newfound polish. The same is true of the title track, which opens with a galloping rhythm guitar; drums don’t enter the picture until nearly a minute in. That deferral—building up the song in layers, stacking two verses before anything resembling a chorus—creates a tension that was missing from their previous releases. Trusting that the audience will stay beyond the hook is a bold choice; executing it so confidently from the first track shows a band eager to transcend pop-punk expectations.

They take risks with songwriting structure as well, with opening lines often beginning somewhat in medias res; on “Compensation,” Springer drops us into an unfiltered lamentation: “Oh when the quality’s poor, how can you sell a feeling/Without unethical means of promotion?” It’s a rapid-fire mouthful, syllables stretched to fit the rhythm guitar, a rambling tactic that seems designed to blunt the force of her criticisms. But lest the song sound like pop punk by way of Slint, the band lands on a shout-along chorus that’s just abstracted enough to speak to generalized anxieties: “I’ll always know to look both ways before I cross the road/If I get hit all that means is compensation.” In context, it’s a bleak evaluation of the current state of the industry, and a line that establishes what Retirement Party do best: cheeky mixed metaphors, often pulling from childhood lessons, that point out the ironies of adulthood.

Verbosity is a standard trope of emo songwriting, one Retirement Party deploy frequently to lend a sense of breathless anxiety to ostensibly cheery instrumentation. But where Springer’s rushed delivery on Somewhat Literate was charmingly dizzying, impressive in its tight enunciation over whip-fast guitars, that approach falters when the band takes its time. With each word painstakingly drawn out, the sheer syllabic effort on slower tracks like “Old Age” and “Afterthought” sounds taxing, as if she’s fatigued by so many vowel sounds. On a record only 10 songs long, the odd vocal crack or awkward rhyme can threaten to derail the momentum so steadily built in the first half.

But the inclusion of slower songs—ballads, almost—also signals a conscious effort to avoid premature categorization. They’re an emo band from the Midwest, but they don’t have the twinkling orchestral melodies of “Midwest emo.” They sing about anxiety over power chords, but their lyrics are couched in a layer of detached poeticism that sets them apart from the frustrated, lovelorn cries of their pop-punk peers. Springer nods to the patterns expected of her band on the quiet, twangy closer “Wild Boyz”: “Write a song that they can sing along with/Make friends that you don’t even have to talk with.” It might be a recognition of the band’s current ambitions, and a confession that she wants something more. As a distorted guitar breakdown sweeps over the track like an approaching storm, we’re left with a band fit for a stadium, no matter the size of the rooms that they’re currently playing.

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