Runners In The Nerved World
Dayton, Ohio fun punks The Sidekicks have received one of the highest honours in the punk community: signing with Epitaph Records. The jump came after three well-received outings through Red Scare Industries, from which the ambitious trio earned a reputation for challenging and expanding upon their sound with each subsequent release. The pathway winding through each milestone leads listeners along the natural next step that is Runners In The Nerved World.
Oddly enough though, landing in their new home isn’t without a dose of irony. A perpetual underdog, the band has long since outgrown their ‘punk’ tag despite joining one of the punkest legacy labels of the past thirty years. This isn’t an abandonment story of rushing into the mainstream, but rather one of the most successful coming of age stories since Against Me!. If The Sidekicks had been trying on jackets for the past six years, then they would finally be heading to the checkout with a perfect fit. Runners In The Nerved World now defines The Sidekicks as one the premiere 90’s alt rock revivalists.
Experiencing The Sidekicks’ present incarnation is like sitting on a pebbly, overcast west-coast beach, looking upon a familiar childhood landscape for one last time. The reality of departure hasn’t yet sunk in and the memories remain vivid. There’s an overwhelming insight into life’s magnanimous scope for even the simplest of experiences. Put less abstract, The Sidekicks come from a place of warmth and comfort, having smoothed over their sharper hooks in favour of a subtler, more intricate approach. It’s the natural progression coming off of Awkward Breeds, drawing further inspiration from the Band Of Horses and Fleet Foxes school of indie. In accordance, Steve Ciolek’s vocals are spot on this time around, having ironed out his previously nasally character in favour of a delightfully understated delivery that lives a full life amidst rich composition. From high flung falsetto to graceful mid-tone harmonies, there’s little doubt that this is what Ciolek has been striving for all along.
As for the individual songs, Runners In The Nerved adheres to an overarching continuity. Songs skirt defining themselves singularly through an applied unity. It’s a long standing approach for The Sidekicks, but shines through like never before. The album ebbs and flows between artful mid-tempo tunes “Jesus Christ Supermalls” and the playful bounce of “Everything In Twos” and “Blissfield, MI.” Fans fearing the loss of the punk spirit from their early years should sleep easy during such uptempo shifts, although they shouldn’t be confused for the norm. That honour is kept for the likes of the self-referencing, soul-warming highpoint, “The Kid Who Broke His Wrist.” Like hovering chilled fingertips over cooling embers, the emanating warmth just feels so right.
The Sidekicks compound success in their endeavours with mature lyricism. Lively passages embrace symbolism as much as they project imagery. For instance, Ciolek calls out, “call me deer, if I’m the one in the headlights, you’re on the side of the road,” smartly embracing the phonetic dual-meaning of track title, “Deer.” Definitely geared for a more experienced audience, tracks like “Satellite Words And Me” speak to aging hipsters and punks that may be “feeling obsolete” in a world of rapidly progressing digital trends.
The Sidekicks’ fourth outing furthers Epitaph’s reputation for taking some of the most humble punk bands and propelling them to their next big step (see: The Menzingers, Off With Their Heads, Joyce Manor). Truthfully, the album is more successful than perhaps articulated above, and dances with overlapping genres that the band’s traditional audience wouldn’t necessarily seek out. But Runners In The Nerved World is an eye-opening gateway for longtime fans to pass through, and one well worth celebrating as The Sidekicks’ mid-career rebirth.