Let Me Run - Mad/Sad (Cover Artwork)

Let Me Run

Mad/Sad (2012)

XOXO Records / Taking Flight Records

Mad/Sad, the latest record from New Brunswick, N.J.'s Let Me Run–at its full-throated, earnestly pleading best–brings to mind another Garden State staple, the Wrens, without the subtlety but easily echoed in their big choruses. Surprisingly, you'll also find that if you dig beneath the compressed distortion, a band that could easily pass for ‘90s college rock regulars the Connells, if given some time to rehearse. And I mean this with all sincerity as a good thing.

When the record works, it works, as evidenced in the lead track, "If It Bleeds, We Can Kill It," a three-minute barnburner awash with climaxing harmonies. Other highlights include "Tim Drake," a song I'm pretty sure is about Batman's third Robin (and if it's not, well, it's a wasted-effort featuring a nice, restrained guitar solo) and album closer "Here on the Ground," a rousing anthem on a record full of attempts at rousing anthems.

Unfortunately, for many others less fond of that rose-colored, Clintonian paradise recalled by the Wrens and Connells, that also means this record will sound oppressively stale. The production is consistent to a fault–all chunky power riffs, sustained solos, knows-its-place drumming and overpowering, up-front melodies. Despite a couple of thrashing verses and walloping hooks, I can't help but think I'm being taken for a ride by some punk palookas rehashing the Goo Goo Dolls (see: "Invisible"), grinding their guitar picks in long distorted slides.

At its best this record reminds me of the best of '90s alt rock and at its worst the worst. Underneath their unwavering commitment to a single, simple sound, I think this band is capable of finding its inner "Nuggets," a feat that will only aid the pop songsters inside that're dying to come out. If they're willing to experiment with their sound, as they nearly do on "Black Lagoon," Let Me Run could make a punk rock record for the rest of us here in 2013.