Rooftop Runners is a Berlin-via-Canada sibling duo that seemingly aims to specialize in a very specific kind of tense, slinky, mournful night-pop that lands somewhere in the neighbourhood of The xx. The key word is “aims” though; the success level varies.
The brothers of Rooftop Runners, whether due to limited resources and technical know-how or conscious creative decision, are staunch minimalists. The four songs that comprise their debut EP We Are Here are rarely made up of more than vocals, a simple drum loop, a single guitar, occasionally a bass line, and a synthesizer or two. Sometimes this works, as on the opening track “Streets”; a sparse boom-clap beat is accompanied by a lurching synth line that sounds like some false-starting machine, while the vocals start fairly low and breathy and somehow end up in this weird, high place. The whole thing, which goes on churning for about four and a half minutes, all adds up to something vaguely unsettling, and it’s the most interesting song on the EP.
The rest is less… focused? That feels like a strange criticism considering the nature of the songs; there’s so few elements at work that you’d think some kind of conceptual map-loss is unlikely, but it feels like an appropriate call. Perhaps the best word for it is unfinished. Too often the arrangements and production can feel too minimalist, leaving you thinking that the “build tension and release” moments (of which there are many) would come across as more effective if the band had more to actually release. For example, the closing song “She Devil” suffers from this approach in a major way; it’s already a mediocre song to begin with and by far the worst one of the four, but it’s made even worse by the fact that the song is laid bare, crap lyrics and all, in an arrangement that consists of an extremely quiet drum pattern and a single, repetitive guitar line. Why? I don’t know. Maybe they really like Beat Happening, but if that’s the case, then they’re doing it wrong; the band tries to sell every moment with such self-consciously serious conviction that you end up hoping the awkward lyrics are tongue-in-cheek instead of knowing they are.
What really sits strangely is the vocal delivery of the two brothers, whose confident, outward projection seems very much at odds with the spare instrumentation. It seems like a silly, obvious thing to say, but they might just be singing too loud. The best moment on the entire EP is probably the chorus of “Bang Bang”, where they lock into a restrained, hushed harmony that’s enough to make one really, really wish The xx would put out another album already. Rooftop Runners have some interesting ideas, but it seems like they’re having some trouble articulating them for now.
© Justin Santelli, Music Vice
Internet link: Rooftop Runners
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