“Singer” and “songwriter” Adam Gnade would like his “vocals” to be seen as resembling those of Lou Reed and the Hold Steady’s Craig Finn, each of whom, to varying degrees, talk/sing their way through their narrative-based tunes, perfectly riding the cusp between songwriter and storyteller, with rock ‘n’ roll as the vehicle for their portraits of characters alive at the edge. Adam Gnade, on the other hand, is a Beat-inspired writer who has chosen to recite his short stories with music happening around his readings. Thick with imagery and populated by sad sack losers in dilapidated surroundings, I’m fairly certain his “songs” would work much better on paper than they do on record. Gnade’s only a passable reader, sometimes connecting to the emotionality of his “lyrics”, but he’s often reciting at such a hurried pace that neither he nor his ideas have much time to breathe. Even more rarely does there seem to be much coincidence between Gnade and the music occurring around him, as if the two main components of the album never met until the final mixing stage and were, even then, viewed as separate, rather than potentially complementary, entities. In other words, there’s music happening and there are words happening, but they hardly ever synch up in any meaningful way. Only on the jazzy electro-rock of “Dance to the War”, with Gnade’s vocals compressed and distorted, does it all come together. But it’s too little and too late. I’m not sure why most listeners would still be tuned in by track seven of the very frustrating Run Hide Retreat Surrender.
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