From the ominous tones that open “Streets,” the first song on the newly released four-song debut EP We Are Here from Rooftop Runners to “She Devil,” its last song that’s about the seduction of evil, the overall impression is clearly what their website calls with perhaps some over-the-top alliteration, “a mix of menacing mood and moving melody.” It has at least the “menacing mood,” if not particularly the “moving melody.” What you get are dominating electro beats combined with dark droning bass, dissonant guitars and eerie falsetto vocals that seem more focused on finding some kind of abstract beauty in an ugly world. It is trip-pop with an edge.
“Crippled in my youth, crippled in my youth, crippled in my youth, and I’m trying to breathe,” a line from the album’s second track, “Energize” and used as a kind of motto on their website, is no doubt meant as a metaphor for the band’s aesthetic. Crippled by conventional thinking as youngsters, true artists must break free from these crippling conventions so they can be energized and breathe. It is a ticket to the “wild side.” It may be dangerous, but life is in danger. Without danger there is no thrill.
“Bang, Bang” stresses the fear of the future: “You’re lying all alone afraid of what’s to come/You’re lying all alone waiting to be born.” Nonetheless, it would be a future no matter how perilous that needs to be faced. The highly effective video for this song set in the shell of a destroyed building in the middle of a darkened landscape, features three very pretty young women moving through the rubble as if tentatively searching for something or someone, meeting eventually a leering stranger and winding up lying all alone, but having experienced a moment of sensuous abandon—the wild side.
There is a price to be paid for ecstatic experience, but it may well be a price worth paying. The “She Devil” may have a “poisonous kiss,” but she is “seductive and delightful” and offers the prospect of bliss in her “broken hand.” These themes are not new with Rooftop Runners; they go back to the Romantic poets. Think especially of someone like John Keats, and poems like “Lamia” and “La Belle Dame Sans Merci.” They are the themes of youth.
It is not only their lyrics, but their music that drives this vision. This is not pretty pop music. It throbs and drives home the lyric through repetition, and repetition and more repetition. Three or four lines are all that is needed: Call it spare, call it minimalist. Call it what you will, it makes its point emphatically. And then just in case you might have missed it, it makes it again.
Rooftop Runners it turns out are two singer/songwriter brothers, Benedikt and Tobias MacIsaac, originally from Canada now transplanted to Germany, where it looks like they have found themselves a spiritual home. This debut EP reminds me of nothing so much as the German Expressionist movement of the early part of the 20th century, the movement that produced a classic like Nosferatu. Given the current popularity of dark visions of vampires and zombies, this is a vision that should find a ready audience.