Sensory Overload: Runners

From the November 15, 2012 edition

I had never heard of Runners when I saw the band’s EP release party on Kobo’s concert calendar, but some strategic Googling revealed that former Super Desserts gal Fran Litterski was involved, and any band with a tie to that late, great, expansive institution is worth at least a passing glance. So I headed to Kobo last Friday to witness this synth-driven pop project in action.

There was a lot to take in. Although Runners’ promo photos frame the project as a duo featuring Litterski and Drew Lizon, the stage lineup included three more musicians whose presence was crucial in bringing this music to life. Runners’ songs would not have survived the karaoke-like approach that many electronic acts are adopting these days, partially because the group’s roots are more in the realm of indie pop.

Runners exists in the same space as Passion Pit, where synth sounds function as accessories for organic foundations. At times they glimpsed the post-Kiwi jitters of Terribly Empty Pockets, while other moments reminded me of cutesy melody freaks like Matt & Kim and The New Pornographers. The frantic collective pop of Broken Social Scene and Los Campesinos! came to mind too.

Enough with the references, though. Runners has a look, sound and feel of its own, and it’s a pretty good one. The vocal melodies were nimble and infectious—you couldn’t miss hooks that huge — and the rhythms were just as welcoming. They managed to make huge-sounding shout-along anthems without sacrificing small details like Litterski’s xylophone runs and a round of spritely hand claps.

Not all was well, of course, but the aspects that irked me were either minor or fixable. The aesthetic is kind of vanilla, though the songs are catchy enough that vanilla might not be a problem. I liked that Lizon was equipped with a tom for auxiliary percussion, but he wasn’t exactly staying on beat.

At one point they all sang, “How do you like me now?” It wasn’t a Heavy cover, just a question I’m happy to answer in the affirmative. Runners could easily morph into a nightmare band if they get too cute, but with some seasoning I’m excited to see where they’re headed.