I’ve picked this band as my first review simply due to being in the right place at the right time. The California based band just performed at the Richard Stockton College this past weekend in Pomona New Jersey as the opening act for the Goo Goo Dolls. Now normally, I don’t pay opening acts much attention. The endless stream of generic garage bands that never end up getting anywhere usually don’t manage to spark my interest, but the second that this sextet began to play, I knew I was listening to something special. Once I got home, I immediately purchased their self titled debut album on iTunes. (I would have done so sooner, but unfortunately iPhone battery life and 4 hour concerts don’t mix. Go figure.)
The traditional sound of folk songs has been given a modern update recently in popular music, thanks to the popularity of bands like Mumford and Sons, The Lumineers and Noah and the Whale. At first listen, Run River North has a similar sound to many of their contemporaries in the crossover folk genre. I immediately thought of the indie-folk band Of Monsters and Men, also recently formed, with their blend of male and female vocals and emotion evoking harmonies.
What sets Run River North apart, however, is that the musicians (Daniel Chae, violin and guitar; John Chong, drums; Joe Chun, bass; Alex Hwang, singer/songwriter; Sally Kang, keyboard; Jennifer Rimm, violin) are all Korean-American and use their own personal experience, and that of their ancestors as inspiration. Most notably, their song “Foxbeard” speaks of the harsh limitations of their immigrant grandparents. My personal favorite song is “Lying Beast”, which begins quietly with hushed verses sung in unison, with a simple hummed melody that serves as its chorus. From there the intensity of the instruments build and when the simple melody repeats, it is sung in full voiced rich harmony and crescendos that crest and fall.
Produced by Phil Ek, the songs don’t have as much polish as the Of Monsters and Men album, but that isn’t necessarily a setback. Instead, I find the acoustic, stripped down sound to give the album a much more intimate feel. It shows that they have the raw talent and sound just as good live as they do recorded. All in all, it’s a fantastic debut album from a band I will be watching closely in the future.