Electronic music isn’t generally thought of as folk music, and yet that’s kind of the best way to appreciate AWOLNATION’s full-length debut “Megalithic Symphony” (Red Bull Records). High-tech but not mechanical, it plays like a modern-day version of a vintage field recording. Amid the high-volume beats-per-minute workout, you’ll find quasi-gospel flourishes and spoken-word intervals that seem like found-sound objects.
But Aaron Bruno, the California-based group’s mastermind, is loath to spell out too many details.
“I really strongly believe that music is meant to be interpreted by the listener and not taken literally,” Bruno says. “Oftentimes I’ll find out what a song ‘really means,’ and more often than not it’s disappointing. I’ll think it’s about one thing, cherish that concept in my head, then find out it’s not as deep as I thought, or crying out to my exact issue.
“I know what every part on this record means to me,” he adds. “The songs involve different places, smells, times in my life. But I want listeners to make it their own. Somebody actually got into an argument with our keyboard player about a lyric – claimed it was, ‘Blame it on my own sick pride.’ That’s actually a lot cooler than what the line really is: ‘Blame it on my own supply.’ ”
At a time when high-profile releases debut high on the charts and then disappear almost overnight, “Megalithic Symphony” is the rare album to show some legs. Upon its release in 2011, it only climbed as high as No. 87 on the Billboard 200. But two years later, “Megalithic Symphony” is still bouncing around the middle reaches of the chart and selling steadily. The album also spun off a sizable hit single, “Sail,” which has sold more than 2 million copies and is still climbing the Hot 100 singles chart.
Onstage as well as on record, Bruno comes off as a high-strung combination of Trent Reznor’s doomy sonics and Andrew WK’s positivity (with a bit of Little Richard-style wildness on “Burn It Down,” which sports a hilarious video that transforms a courtroom into a seething nightclub). Early on “Megalithic Symphony,” Bruno greets the listener with an almost prayerful spoken-word invocation: “Thank you for listening again, or for the first time, or for the last time. We share this moment, and I am grateful for this.”
“Can you expect everybody to love everything you write?” he asks rhetorically. “I sure don’t. A lot of the stuff I do on this record is dead serious, but slightly sarcastic. So if people are taking it too seriously or get offended for some reason – ‘Just kidding!’ Music should be lighthearted and fun and make your day better. When you’re lucky enough to find a record that does that for you, it’s good.”
With “Megalithic Symphony” well-established in the marketplace, Bruno has been in hard-touring mode for a while now. From the looks of his schedule, that grind won’t stop anytime soon.
“On the road is sort of where life is taking me right now,” he says. “I’m trying to figure out where it would be best to stay, or not. I can be depressed, not feeling like I’ve got anyplace like ‘home,’ or just make home wherever I am.”
Menconi: 919-829-4759; blogs.newsobserver.com/beat