Newfoundland rock group Long Distance Runners – not to be confused with a Swedish band with the same name – know their way around a good pun when they see one. Their debut album, not counting an earlier EP, is called Tracks, after all, and one conjures the image of a bunch of sprinters making their way around a circuit. While songwriter and band leader Chris Picco’s lyrics aren’t quite as funny as you might expect from that (and are pretty standard as far as rock and roll wordsmithing goes) what Long Distance Runners do pretty well is knot their way around a decent rock sized hook. Opening, urm, track, “Election Day”, is what you’d get if you crossed the singing style of U2’s Bono crossed with the slacker abandon of a Thurston Moore or Stephen Malkmus with a laidback musical vibe stolen from the Kinks’ songbook. “Knuckles” features a schoolboy chorus pulled from Pink Floyd circa The Wall, “Treading Water” has a Dixieland jazz-like feel with the clarion sound of a trumpet and “Sally Ann” has an undeniably catchy riff that suggests the band was listening closely to the country rock sounds of Wilco crossed with a little of the Stones’ swagger. The band’s modus operandi is spelled out in final cut “A Short History of America” when they sing “I know where I come from / I was born to rock ‘n’ roll”. Believe it.
Overall, Tracks is a very strong and enjoyably delectable album of Canadian rock, even though the band isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel. There are some stumbles that suggest the group’s spontaneous songwriting approach – many of the songs were recorded in the same day that the band learned them – sometimes outstrips its ambition: “Sally Ann” features a rather lengthy breakdown where much of the band drops away and it’s just Picco’s voice and a guitar, and “If I Forget to Say I Love You” suffers from a similar trick where the band disappears and it’s just Picco and a bunch of handclaps. The mandolin-led “Knuckles” also feels as though it’s going to build up into something climatic, but ultimately just peters out. However, despite its flaws, Tracks offers nearly good ol’ fashioned barnburning rock for much of its almost 45-minute runtime, a few ballads notwithstanding, and is very entertaining to listen to. I’m sure that once the group does a few more laps on the touring circuit, they might hammer out some of their inconsistencies and raise the bar for their next effort.