The label AWOLNATION is signed to tells you a lot about the band. Independent label Red Bull Records runs out of Culver City, California. The very idea of Red Bull Records is ridiculous. That the ubiquitous energy drink was taking over the world was evident from its massive presence in F1 racing, at music festivals globally and in the Vodka-Red Bull becoming a standard mixed drink in bars from Barcelona to Kingston. Now, apparently, they’ve added a record label to their collection of cultural icons. Established in 2007, Red Bull Records operates a recording studio in hippest of hip Santa Monica where they apparently let small indie bands play and record for free. To be sure, Red Bull doesn’t do things by halves. So, naturally, one of those ‘small indie bands’ happened to be headed by frontman Aaron Bruno who had previously been a key operator in acts with names like ‘Under The Influence of Giants’ and ‘Hometown Hero’ who happened to record a track called ‘Sail’ which happened to absolutely blow up. 16 million views on YouTube for a single is not an impressive number if you’re Katy Perry, Eminem or even Skrillex. 16 million is an astronomical number if you are releasing on a fledgling independent label (RBR boasts only six signings – albeit under a name that carries extreme gravitas) and your song is about as left of field as they come.
This track comes reviewed after two, very different individuals recommend I look into the five-piece from LA. One is a lover of all bad 90s rock. Matchbox 20, The Calling and Creed might be guilty pleasures for most of us. For this guy they are daily listens. Then last week, a friend who had been talking electronic music with me to such a level of intricacy I was astounded he knew about anything else on earth casually dropped the name. ‘AWOLNATION’ sounds like some sort of red-alert security stage that homeland security might utilise. AWOLNATION the band, it turns out, might provide the ultimate soundtrack to that scenario. I found it difficult to reconcile 90s-rock-lover and EDM-head both recommending the same band but in AWOLNATION, Red Bull have struck on a kind of sensational combination. Bruno, ostensibly the creative mastermind of the group (and very much, for the time being at least, its public face), has hit on an unsuspecting hybrid that, surprisingly, hasn’t really been done, effectively, before. Electronic music and rock frequently intersect on small-label releases and the weirder cuts from more traditional rock bands. Rarely do they mingle with pop to create such a potent cocktail that two staunchly partisan listeners might come to agree; ‘Sail’ is kind of awesome.
The plucky string riff at the heart of all of it is what ‘Sail’ is all about. That it is so effortlessly replaced by a synth iteration of the same melody is the reason the song has such crossover appeal. Certainly, the lyrical content is not immediately accessible. Talk of ADD (potentially attention deficit, more likely alcohol and drug dependency), suicide and more tortured sentiments like ‘sick pride’ wouldn’t normally make the cut for even the raunchiest of Rihanna singles. And yet, that riff, its looped repetition and the way that one word command ‘Sail!’ punctuates it unexpectedly make the track an irresistibly catchy proposition. In the vein of the great contemporary rock operas (the extravagance of ‘American Idiot’-era Green Day and Muse particularly spring to mind), ‘Sail’ knows what it is attempting to do and aims for the guts. Any less gaudy showmanship and this thing would have fallen flat on its ass. Instead, with the charisma to inflate it, ‘Sail’ is overwhelming – but in a good way. Out in 2011, it’s taken me far too long to cotton on to its charms. Perfectly balanced between rock and electro and determinedly explosive. Something like caffeine and taurine.
AWOLNATION – Sail