There was a period only recently when Belfast’s Runaway[GO] may well have been nothing more than a fond memory amongst the city’s gig-goers and surveyors of the scene. It was this year, in fact, that the band lost two of its key members in guitarist James Lappin and bassist Chris Jackson, throwing the prospect of a completed debut full-length record into total disarray, nevermind the band’s immediate future. Had it not been for a wanton dedication to finish what they started and a healthy following of fans to support their Pledge Music campaign, Fiona O’Kane and David Jackson could well have moved on – an upsetting notion considering the duo’s predilection for songwriting and performing.
But O’Kane and Jackson’s Bildungsroman of good band faces bad times but come up good is a comforting one. The culmination of their arc has been joyful; the duo have been candid about how they’ve had some troubles, musically and personally, but had invested so much into making Alive that giving up wasn’t an option. This translates tremendously well into Alive. The product of stresses, weighted emotions and sighs of relief, tumultuous meanderings and safe-landings, it’s bursting with expressions of personality, growing pains and celebrations. There’s an incomparable energy that emanates from the anthemic indie-pop ballad/clever, familiar metaphor of album opener ‘Ashes’ until the understated melodramatics of album closer ‘Home To The Clouds’.
What’s arguably the most striking aspect of Alive, though, is how big it sounds given the small number of components that make it up. Vocally, O’Kane and Jackson soar with harmonies that are rich yet simple – implying a firm grip on the technicalities of arrangement and theory. Runaway[GO] have said that they “plan on gigging as much as possible to as many people as possible and promise to bring the compassion and energy we always have”, so at its very core Alive seems built for the stage. Whether or not the dynamics of the record can be communicated by the pair is something only time will tell, but Alive makes a convincing opening argument.
Musically dexterous, the now two-piece seem to have leaned feverishly into pop-territory throughout the album with evidence to be found by way of ‘Lover to Lover’, ‘Kite’ or ‘Lightning’. The indie edge of 2012’s self-titled EP seems more of a distant cousin than a warring sibling but that’s not to say Alive is any less powerful – there’s a maturity to the overall tone that suggests Runaway[GO] are more settled; comfortable, even, in their current direction.
This is their debut full-length album, and has been called a “a new beginning for RUNAWAY[GO]”, but it’s more than that. It’s the beginning of a new beginning, and it’s a particularly strong one.