Stylistically dissimilar to all of Minneapolis’ other post-punk guitar bands, Run Westy Run restlessly ambles down its own path, casually playing around the edges of noisy blues, dissonant rock, chunky funk and twisted country. Despite frequent displays of substantial imagination, it took the energetic quintet a while to distill a personality from those bright ideas.
Produced by Pete Buck and Grant Hart (with no audible debt to either R.E.M. or Hüsker Dü), Hardly Not Even is mostly a showcase for Kirk Johnson’s literate lyrics and dramatic vocals, plus the band’s complementary guitarists. Repeatedly shifting rhythmic and loudness gears, the songs are gutsy but tuneless, with too many one-chord vamps blunting the better efforts.
The first half of the self-produced Run Westy Run shows another side of the Westies: clearer, lighter-weight sound and melodic, folk-inflected songs, played in a warm-rush haze with woozy gang vocals. On the muddy flipside, the group indulges a fondness for early-’70s slop-rock, riffing up a Stoogey storm of thick guitar drive and even making up their own Led Zep song (“Gee”).
With time out for a pair of folky lullabies (“Kiss the Night,” “So Long”) and a couple of other exceptions, the excellent Green Cat Island (co-produced by Buck again) organizes memorable rock tunes around the band’s dynamic gods-of-thunder citations. Guitarists Terry Fisher (billed here as Terrance James) and Kyle (Jay) Johnson repeatedly whip off exciting vintage tributes to Aerosmith, the Stones and others, driving taut modern songs that finally get to the core of Run Westy Run’s talents.