Baltimore needs to ask herself, “Were the ’90s actually as good as I remember them?” It seems like everyone was really excited for 2000 to roll around and ready for the ’90s to wrap up, but I was just a baby in jelly sandals playing with my Bop It when Kurt Cobain died, so what do I know? “Separate,” Roomrunner’s new EP, thick with grunge-era vibes, does have me reconsidering my no-to-the-’90s stance. On ‘Ms. DNA,’ the energetic first track, guitarist Jeff Byers does not gingerly guide us back in time. It arrives with no preamble or introduction, and just drops listeners into the epicenter of a grog-a-delic sonic storm. ‘ESPN Zone’ opens with magnetic guitar frenzy, harnessing two or more layers of circling guitars. Sometimes the guitar circles sound like amorphous blobs, and other times they’re tighter and they start and stop together suddenly. The track feels controlled, but just barely.
There are also unapologetic hints of mainstream ’90s rock throughout, no doubt thanks to producer J. Robbins, an expert when it comes to cleaning up punk and uncovering its pop appeal. On ‘Slow,’ Weezer riffs, dissonant harmonies, and surprising Third Eye Blind doot-doot-doot-do-ing are followed by a bassline straight out of a Tom Petty song, with vocalist Denny Bowen singing simple escapist lyrics, “dreaming of no gravity/ I want to fly through the air.” Roomrunner perhaps has cooler direct influences than Weezer or Third Eye Blind, but the strength of “Separate” comes in the way the group resurrects the grit and grime of ’90s rock without forgetting the catchy qualities of the poppy alt-rock that even yours truly as Bop It bopping toddler remembers. Sure, reflecting on the ’90s for too long can be tiring, but “Separate” gets nostalgic for just long enough, exploring the decade’s heavy indie and alt-rock, making for an idyllic noisy, but kind of dreamy version of the ’90s.