Run River North are a Korean-American band from Southern California. Run River North is their debut album, it consists of eleven tracks. The album was produced by Phil Ek who has also worked with Fleet Foxes and Board of Horses. The band consists of Alex Hwang on vocals, Daniel Chae and Jennifer Rim on strings, Sally Kang on keys and John Chong on drums. The band have a unique experience as Americans being the sons and daughters of Korean immigrants.
Run River Run is an album that expresses the feelings of being the child of immigrants through a folk pop aesthetic, a style of music that is undeniably American at it’s heart. Alex Hwang explains, “The immigrant experience is unique, but our songs also address that universal struggle of identity. We wanted to write about it and share the stories about being “dash” American”. I’ve read comments about them “not sounding Korean” but I feel like the band do not want to be a gimmick, their race and ethnicity is not a novelty, it’s simply their unique perspective. After all, these kids are American and that’s what they’re trying to say through their folk pop stylings. Run River North are not a Korean folk band gimmick, they are a folk band with a unique voice.
The album opens with the epic Monsters Calling Home. The song’s elative hook of “Oh’s” immediately draws us in. However, amidst the soaring choruses of the track, there are deeply personal lyrics which refer to the theme of cultural displacement: “They’re walking to the/ beat of a broken drum/ Digging for worth in/ A land under a foreign sun.” The track has abundant commercial appeal that will find it’s audience amidst fans of The Lumineers and Mumford and Sons, however, the emotional honestly and deeply personal lyrics, give it that much more depth rather than just being another folk-pop track for TV trailers. Monsters Calling Home is a great pop track with an infectious hook but very much harbouring a personal story which I very much enjoyed.
Lying Beast is a track that starts as a simple down-tempo folk track: “I flew farther than I knew/ Father, did you know that I don’t need to tell the truth?/ Cause my lies take me far away/ Take me to a place where everyone will know my name”. The lyrical theme is that of loneliness, alienation and frustration. The jangling guitars and male/female harmonies fool you into into calmness as the song builds over pulsating drums and then electric guitars. It then progresses into more soaring choruses and “Ah’s”. Again, behind another infectious hook, the song is another personal tale which was a personal highlight listening to the album.
The track Run River North has a kind of folk rock edge. The song has more catchy hooks which same to be the band’s trademark combined with violins and electric guitars which give it an indie rock edge. In The Water has an almost grunge-esque introduction followed by epic violins, emotive vocal delivery and a storm of guitars. Foxbeard is another track which deals with more themes of cultural diaspora: “I knew a man who found forrest overseas/ he grew his beard like the grounds bear trees”.
The Run River North debut LP is a collection of eleven strong folk pop tracks with great melodies and hooks and heartfelt lyrics. After all, interesting lyrics are fundamental to the folk genre. It’s all about storytelling and although this is more indie/pop/folk, they manage to achieve that. Their unique perspective and personal lyrics make them separate from any folk-pop “Oh’s” and “Ah’s” that are becoming so popular these days. I commend Run River North for their lyrical depth. I feel their stories and emotional expressions will be of much comfort to those who are “dash” American or anyone who is moving to a foreign land to seek a better life and going through times where they feel alienation and displacement.
Run River North will be released on 29th September via Nettwerk Records.