Review Summary: Rushing like a spirit from a wineskin bag...Out of dreams, into the sun.
Run River North, a small Korean-American folk band formed in 2011, is an ideal candidate to become one of 2014’s breakout indie artists. Their quaint, woodsman-with-a-guitar approach hasn’t yet
drawn them much attention, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t composing some of the most beautiful indie-folk that there is to be heard this year. By combining their folksy instrumental roots with lush strings and crystal clear production, Run River North make themselves likeable upon casual listens yet admirable from a critical standpoint. It’s one of 2014’s win-win indie records, and it’s very likely to catch fire if exposed in the right light.
Run River North’s eponymous debut thrives on its ability to take delicately crafted, acoustically-based songs and make them sound majestic. “Monsters Calling Home” is the most palpable instance, in which Alex Hwang’s soaring vocals intertwine with his bandmates’ to form a gorgeously melodic chorus that is driven by rapid, energy-exuding drums. Listeners may initially find this slightly off-putting, as it follows in the mold of today’s popular and overbearing indie-pop acts. However, the album quickly settles into a more modest groove, one that intricately balances their folk foundations with moments of brief grandeur. “Beetle” – easily the best song on the record – showcases the band’s rich orchestral side, underscoring the depth and spirituality of their lyrics. Run River North consistently harbor deep and sometimes dark feelings about life, but they package those demons in comfortable melodies that put an uplifting spin on all of their poignancy. This is a trend that exists from one bookend to the last, spanning the length of their debut and providing it with the substance necessary to separate it from other lesser “indie-pop” acts out there.
Another noticeable and quite admirable trait of Run River North
is its ability to make smooth and effortless transitions. “Lying Beast” showcases this best, commencing as a quiet finger-plucking acoustic exercise which progresses in slow-burn fashion…eventually, it erupts in all of its splendor, featuring exquisite orchestral strings and an infectious vocal harmony chanting “Lies! Lies that I couldn't see! I couldn't see that the liar was me! And so I flew away with myself, I was the beast all alone in my hell.” When they aren’t composing dynamic momentum changes within songs, the band frequently settles into simpler moments of an acoustic nature – such as “Run River Run” and “Fight To Keep.” The best part is that the album loses no steam whatsoever, and such gems only serve to augment the album’s sense of rural, natural authenticity.
Run River North’s debut is a strong one – it rarely falters, and possesses all of the components needed to make it an effective crowd-pleaser for multiple types of fans within the genre. Its refusal to commit to a more minimal approach - or to launch itself into full blown stardom – leaves Run River North
in something of a limbo, but that’s perfectly acceptable as long as they continue to pair meaningful lyrics with melodies of this magnitude. It will be interesting to see what direction this band treads in for future albums, as they have enough talent to succeed no matter where they end up going. As it stands, we’ll always have this gorgeous and sprawling indie-folk debut to look back upon as Run River North’s highly-touted inception.