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Even hurricanes can’t keep a great band down

/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

After years of writing music together, hitting the road and playing shows together, the boys of Always the Runner began asking themselves the question no band wants to ask: Should we stay together? In the chaos following Katrina, the four Louisiana natives were worrying less about where to play their next show, and more about rebuilding their homes and finding jobs in a desperate economy. Always the Runner was put on hold.

Now, a few months later, the band is heading back to New Orleans in hopes of jumpstarting the city's devastated indie music scene — and with the release of “An August Golf,” Always the Runner does just that.

The band of four like-minded instrumentalists who have traditionally tip-toed around the prog genre, fall in full force on their newest release, incorporating keys and samples into bits and pieces of their ingenious auditory experiment. On the surface, Always the Runner reads like other instrumental contemporaries — the Appleseed Cast, Explosions in the Sky, Tristeza — yet underneath each song's soaring melodic exterior, an uncompromising intensity is evident. On “An August Golf,” Always the Runner dutifully traverses the basics of the genre, but stretches its arms just enough to contrive something satisfyingly unique.

With tracks like “Miles” and “You're Jumping Across Mountains,” the first half of “An August Golf” is soothing and warm, defiantly jovial on a CD that often steers the listener toward the austere. “Miles,” the disc's opener, is perhaps the best quantifier of Always the Runner's sound, offering trademark guitar riffs and beat breakdowns over a trickle of vocals via drummer-and-sometimes-singer Chad Favre.

On “You're Jumping Across Mountains” Garret Morley and Eric Dills battle it out on guitar, sinking and rising as bassist Ian Stanford plucks notes below. “You're Jumping Across Mountains” slips nicely into the album's best track, “I Thought I'd Find You There,” which tag teams guitars and keys in a smorgasbord of stratospheric sounds. At first perceivably formulaic, the track breaks from a radio-friendly alt-jam to a grungy experiment in instrumental progression. The song's rowdy conclusion highlights the roughest and least restrained moments of the album, and consequently, the most memorable.

The band's aptitude for captivating is understated, not overpowering the listener — a skill best observed on “An August Golf (Part 1).” In Album Leaf tradition, Always the Runner gently embraces a soundtrack of twinkling chimes and xylophonic dings, while piano chords hold together the beautiful, yet sometimes muddy melody.

The disc's second half breaks the pace of earlier tracks, as the Always the Runner crew slows down to enjoy their own music making. “The Closest I Ever Came to Lightening” has the feel of an intimate jam session, while “Should a Bear Interrupt Your Picnic” is a crisp, clean, well-manufactured homage to rhythm rock. On “Something Important Happened in Falls Church,” Favre tests out his vocals, marking the only song on the disc with a distinctly lyrical purpose (Favre drops more rhymes on this tune than on all the songs on the rest of the album combined). The song is lively enough, and its laid-back acoustic feel is a nice addition to an otherwise explicitly electric collection of songs.

“An August Golf,” which runs nearly 42 minutes on eight tracks, was nearly a year in the making. Frustratingly, despite all the work that went into writing and recording the album, Always the Runner has had little opportunity to showcase the music on stage — Rita forced the cancellation of several record-release concerts in Louisiana, and the group has only played one show since the hurricanes swept through earlier this year. But that hasn't kept the group from thinking about the future of the band.

“As long as we've known each other and as long as we've been playing music together. I think none of us knew whether or not all the stuff that was happening would be too much for us to handle.  However, we came out, I think, with a much clearer focus,” Stanfordsaid. “No one was ready to throw away Always the Runner. The band was kind of like the rock that grounded each of us.”

While “An August Golf,” musically, is a monumental accomplishment, it's the band's dedication to staying together that make Always the Runner stand out from the crowd. And it can be heard in the music.

For more information on Always the Runner, visit: http://www.alwaystherunner.com/.