To decide what to write about, sometimes I put my ear to the proverbial rail and see what I hear rumbling down the line. This week, an album I’ve heard mentioned quite a bit on social media was The Stranger by Shadowrunner.
I’d been hearing the name Shadowrunner for a while, but it was really this track “Sunrise,” a collaboration with vocals provided by Primo The Alien where he really grabbed my attention. Back in March, when the single first dropped, fans of Primo expected and got another top notch vocal performance, but many were blown away by how cinematic the track was. Many listeners on social media said it sounded like the theme song to a John Hughes film. The rest of the album had to wait until late July, but the good news is that The Stranger is an album with a story to tell. Based on a narrative of a man struggling to keep control against “The Stranger” who exists within the dark corners of his mind.
This unfilmed movie opens with the wordless drama of The Stranger part I, a tense and building film score, perfectly laying the scene for the story to unfold. Following that, the story is told through songs that combine the tension of a 1980s action thriller with the narrative focus of musical theater Shadowrunner wisely produced this album where each song, each piece of the puzzle stands alone, a well produced, oft-danceable synth-driven pop hit that could easily be a radio hit. When presented together, creates the complete picture of the tale of the tormented man struggling for control of his own mind, the beautiful woman he longs for, the dark Stranger promising him everything he wants to be if he’ll only relinquish his control.
In addition to Primo’s Sunrise, a vocalist credited with only the mononym Trenton provides vocals on four of the album’s six other tracks. He embodies the voice of our protagonist and the Stranger, his vocals throughout the story shifting from the passion of his hopes, the desperation of his fears, and the resignation of being lost within the shadows of his psyche. When Trenton sings “I don’t need your heart forever, I just wanted to be yours for one night,” on One Night, the passion is real, but is it the hero professing his desire to the lady, or is it the Stranger in his mind, offering a seduction of a different kind?
Ultimately, this album works on so many levels. From a purely sonic standpoint, this is high grade synthwave. Glossy programming, catchy melodies, and layers that build upon the narrative give the music serious “Outrun appeal,” so if you’re wanting a great album to drive to, this one will definitely fit the bill. That said, it also works as a collection of beautifully produced, passionately performed songs, and, finally, it works as a story told on multiple levels to be discovered and considered over repeated listens. Does the hero get the girl? If so, was it his Original self or was it The Stranger lurking within?
Part of the artistry of this album is the listener’s part in discovering the answers. It’s that layering of ideas that work together so well and on so many levels that make this album sound so dynamically powerful on the first listen and the fifth. Those melodies, the rhythms, and that narrative crawl into your mind like a seductive Stranger, whispering “You know you want to hear it again. Just one more time.”