by Phil Akin
Born from the minds of Alex Diosdado and Tabique Malévolo in 2014 with their debut album Starfighter, Night Runner’s only goal is to produce rad music. The duo is heavily influenced by ’80s style electronic beats, with their primary genre being synthwave. While their first album focused mainly on synths, Thunderbird takes that idea and builds upon their already established brilliance by trying out different things, like bringing an electric guitar into the mix. And while this newer take on their music is different, that does not mean it’s bad. If there’s one thing Thunderbird gets right, it’s diversity.
When Night Runner announced that they were making a new album, I was incredibly excited for it. Starfighter was amazing, and this new piece couldn’t get here soon enough. And then they released a teaser clip of most of the songs, and boy, it was different. The new rock portions (along with the vocals) immediately stood out, and it was disappointing that their synthwave sound was being drowned out by this new style. But these worries were largely gone when the full album dropped.
A new, experienced Night Runner
Thunderbird’s introductory track, “Pale Rider”, is key in establishing that this is a new direction for Night Runner. The first thing you hear on the album is the sound of bugs in the background, with an acoustic guitar quickly being introduced. It gives this feeling that we’re in a different setting than any previous works. Toward the end of the track, synths take over and it plays directly into “Red Dawn”.
What makes “Red Dawn” important is that it’s a way for Alex and Tabique to retain a distinct sound that sets them apart from others, while at the same time allowing them to show a new territory they’re pushing toward. The guitar here is not overshadowing the rest of the song, instead being more of a backing instrument to the prominent synths. It’s an excellent blend of the two that sets up “Desert Eagle” quite nicely. For this track however, the guitar is the dominant instrument of the song, with everything else taking a backseat. It’s rather reminiscent of Dance with the Dead, another synthwave artist known for heavily using metal in their songs. The guitar takes over the melody for “Desert Eagle”, and it sounds like they’re just having fun with the music. “Steel Raven” has largely the same feel to it.
While these tracks are excellent in their own right, they aren’t meant to be the main draw for the album. That honor belongs to the title track, “Thunderbird”. There’s a beautiful rivalry in this track between synthwave and rock. The song opens with a synth sample, bringing in the drum loops that continue with Night Runner’s established beats. That is, until the guitar solo takes over and completely steals the show. After the solo, the song settles back into synth territory, where the cry of a (thunder)bird can be heard. The song breaks down again only to bring back the guitar, this time in syncopation with the synths. It’s a gorgeous sounding balance between two distinct styles.
A welcome change
Synthwave as a genre is largely instrumental. That doesn’t mean there can’t be vocals on a track, but usually there aren’t any. “Magnum Bullets (feat. Dan Avidan)” is Night Runner’s first attempt with a song that features lyrics. Sure, they have songs with spoken parts, like “Cold Waves” or “Nuclear Countdown”. They have also done a remix of “Life and Love” by Syntax Semantics, but this is their first outing with lyrics on an original song.
Dan Avidan, well known for his role as Not So Grump on the show Game Grumps, brings in his signature habit of recording several vocal tracks and layering them together. He’s also known for fronting two comedy bands, Ninja Sex Party and Starbomb. Though with “Magnum Bullets”, he strays away from his comedic roots to co-write a more serious song with Night Runner, with lyrics like “My heart and hands collide / The gun lays at my side / Too late to turn back / Only fate’s left to decide”. These lyrics could easily fit in with NSP, but Dan’s tone throughout the song is what sets it apart from his other vocal work. Thunderbird also released with an instrumental version of this song that adds an extra minute and a half. It’s a nice bonus that was not on the original reveal of the track listing.
Not everything is golden
Unfortunately, not everything in the album feels like it belongs. “City Lights” for example, is the only song on Thunderbird that brings a jazz sound with it, much like “Murder in Miami” from Starfighter. However, it feels more like filler while waiting for “Thunderbird” to start playing. It isn’t a bad song by any means, it just feels out of place. “Like a Father” is an excellent example of a less than stellar song. It’s incredibly slow with seemingly no payoff. It sounds like something that would be in a film score, and not something to listen to by itself.
“Contacto Mortal” has the most unique intro to a song I’ve ever heard. It comes out the gate swinging with someone yelling what sounds like a battle cry. There isn’t really much to say about this one, but it does leave quite the first impression.
It’s a minor annoyance, but if “Pale Rider” was the intro track, then you would think “Rawhide” would be the outro track. Not so. “Rawhide” is not the exact same thing as “Pale Rider”, but the two are incredibly similar. The only real difference is the sound of a car revving its engine at the end of “Rawhide”. While “Rawhide” plays directly into “Steel Raven”, it would’ve made an excellent outro track, with the sound of the car driving off into the distance. Perhaps asking the question, where is the Night Runner headed next?
“Magnum Bullets (feat. Dan Avidan)”
Recommended if you like:
Dance with the Dead
any 80’s style music
Featured image from Bandcamp
‘Thunderbird’ is an excellent new direction for Night Runner. Most tracks follow the synthwave duo's new theme of incorporating rock into their songs. The album still holds up despite a few misses here and there. While some tracks don’t feel like they belong, it’s clear that Night Runner put a lot of passion into ‘Thunderbird’. After all, they’re just two guys trying to make rad music.