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From the CD Archives: Run On

February 27, 2012

To be true to the history of Subverbo I thought I should include some music writing, even though of one of the primary lessons I have learned from that history is that I am not competent to write about music. But that has not stopped others, why should it stop me? Just be warned that I may be talking through my hat on this subject (and possibly others as well.)

Since my ipod recently died I have been forced to go back to my CD collection, and I thought I might make a series of posts about albums I have found there, ones that did not make it on to the ipod and that I have barely listened to in the past ten years, mostly music from the 90’s. My first random selection is Start Packing by Run On. It came out on Matador in 1996. I bought it used from Plan 9 for a mere $4, which shows they did not have much faith in its saleability. Undoubtedly I bought it based on a review that I had read. In my mind I tend to confuse this album with another I have, Eleventh Dream Day’s Eighth. There is a lot of similarity.

Run On is made up of four veterans of the downtown NYC avant music scene, Alan Licht being the only one I have otherwise heard of.  Sometimes people with that kind of background, as they get a little older, will start to make music that is more melodic, more song oriented, but still with a bit of an edge and a spirit of experimentation. This is that kind of album. It is guitar based, very proficiently so, but they also add in some additional instrumentation: various keyboards, brass, marimba, accordion, and clarinet. There are both male and female vocals, which provides a welcome variety.

This is adult music. The core of the rock tradition, its defining greatness, lies in the way it can express, in an exhilarating way, the experience of discovering new feeling, a new sense of being alive, with all the possibilities that can bring. It expresses that and it gives that to its performers and audience. This is what makes it youth music. The emotion in Start Packing is more experienced. There is still rawness and intensity and arcs of wild energy — the vitality is still there — but it does not go off to the limitless horizon; it exists within the bound world of lived-in lives.

I was surprised how completely familiar the songs sounded, given that the album was never a particular favorite of mine and I have not listened to it more than once or twice in the past decade. It is not that they are such catchy tunes but that they are solid, the sounds and textures signify, they are not there for no reason.

On the whole, I would say that this is an excellent album, and one that typifies a lot of what was best in the music of its time. Listening to it makes me think of just how much good music there is. Because I can’t imagine that many people have been listening to Run On recently, and I can’t really say that they should be. There is just too much good music out there, and Run On did not distinguish itself clearly enough to stand out sixteen years later. That isn’t a knock against them, just evidence of the glorious fecundity of our culture.

Or hat.


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