Run River North - Drinking From a Salt Pond (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Run River North

Drinking From a Salt Pond (2016)

Nettwerk music group

There's an ingrained desire within any big fan of music. A desire to pass your favorite songs and albums on to friends, family and anyone that will listen. To tell the Starbucks barista and that guy in the accounting department, "you've gotta hear this shit." To have them come back and tell you how much they enjoyed it and to know you've got a sounding board for everything that makes you excited in the world of music.

With Run River North's sophomore effort Drinking From a Salt Pond, there won't be an unoccupied ear in sight.

On the sextet's eponymous 2014 debut, the pieces were there but they never felt fully assured. The melodies weren't fleshed out, the vocals were reserved and the songs had builds that never truly paid off. No such issues are present here: The band is absolutely brimming with a confidence that permeates every level of their songwriting.

The shimmering "Intro (Funeral) Parade" lets vocalist Alex Hwang soar from the outset, singing, "the ones that are coming bring life or take away death" over a mix of clean chord progressions, and light percussion as the tempo keeps increasing. The quick-but-punchy opener sets a perfect stage for "29," a bouncy jaunt that lets Hwang vacillate between carefree verses and urgent choruses. The rhythmic diversity rewards repeated listens; John Chong's drumming goes from background to centerpiece with ease and Daniel Chae's guitar work does the same. There's so many nuances and clever turns that are easy to miss at first, or even second listen.

And that's just as true when the band takes their hand off the throttle.

The backbone of the album is the coupling of "Ghost" and "Elam," two songs that are simultaneously more reserved and just as busy beneath the surface. The former strips almost all of the instrumentation away for the first half, allowing Hwang's vocal delicacy to coast atop sparse guitar work before the percussion and violins ease their way into the fray. The latter lets the violin work of Chae and Jennifer Rim frame Hwang's attitude when singing "making the same face, the one you couldn't shake / you're just a snake making paths no one else can take" before the tempo picks up and bluesy guitar work brings the chorus in. Run River North's arrangements throughout are so wonderfully woven, connecting not only verse to bridge to chorus, but one song to the next.

It's not only the backbone that connects, though. It's the heart. Without that the backbone is just holding together an empty structure that can't move on its own.

Heart is provided by "Can't Slow Down" and "David Robinson," songs as dispirate as they are important to the album as a whole. "David Robinson" is an aural delight, slowly building to a gorgeous, airy chorus and then letting back down into melodic, mid-tempo verses before ascending into the clouds once again. "Can't Slow Down" comes in with some tight drum fills before a quick verse an an absolute eruption of a chorus. This is Hwang at his absolute best: Yearning and energetic in spades, providing rollicking exclamation and a song of the year candidate at the very same time. There's such a palpable urgency to it all.

Run River North's progression from their 2014 debut to this unbridled triumph of a record absoutely cannot be overstated. In providing equal measures of energy, soul and nuance on the album, this California product has established itself as one to keep an eye and two ears on for years to come.

Make sure to tell your friends.