We are all indebted to someone. Sometimes it’s an annoying text message telling you that your phone bill is overdue and other times it’s you remembering your late grandfather who taught you how to fish. Both sides add up and somewhere you find yourself in the middle. Such is the case when I think about Charleston/ Nashville band Slow Runner. On the one hand, the band embodies the new school electro-pop going around like Tame Impala, Grimes or CHRVCHES; on the other, if you are a listener of a certain age, you will feel the old school sounds of bands like Stereolab or Massive Attack. One could feel the timeless indie sensibilites of The Postal Service or Fountains of Wayne or just the hip smartness of LCD Soundsystem or Chromatics. It’s all there, but after all is said and done, these connotations are more evolved than imitative… a process of growing up, as both musicians and listeners.
I have to admit, the first few Slow Runner albums I heard didn’t do as much for me as some of my fellow music-listeners-in-crime. I was always filing singer-songwriter-keyboardist Michael Flynn and his musical jack of all trades partner Josh Kaler under “Bands My Friends Gush Over But I Don’t Get, But I Will keep Trying, Damnit”. I guess I finally caught up with them, both my friends and the band, as the new album Slow Monsters is a dream of songwriting and musicianship. The finely-tuned casio-core indietronica the band has been pumping out for years (with a few interruptions) has made its way into collective consciousness via lots of soundtracks (Grey’s Anatomy, Shameless, etc) and now also into this reviewer’s headspace.
With a simple vocal/piano/handclap combo, the opener “My Love Will Bring You Back” gets in and does its duty before fading out. Said duty is being stuck in your head forever, mission accomplished. “Me+1+1” is an indie pop ode to, as the band says, “the reckless brotherhood of aimless youth”. How many songs have you heard about karaoke singing disputes ending with going outside to start shit with the preacher’s son? The throbbing synth of “New Monsters” has a great slinky guitar riff and the perfect harmonies from Christina Frances Cone remind us that the lyricists are throwing a couch party in a dimly lit room wherein our protagonists watch a scary movie and um, chill. “Trigger Warning” is pure ’80s-style synths backed by a nearly semi-drawled tale of disconnected dreams. The upbeat style contrasts with the dark lyrical matter consummately. We get a trippy segue in “Happy Flashback from a Sad Movie”, straight into “When We’re Clouds”, an album centerpiece. The basic therapy here is “angle your face/ to the clouds” while the music chills you with its optimistic/ pessimistic dichotomy. The jazzy horn breaks of “Bike Thieves” happily interrupt what could be one great Fountains of Wayne song that never was. “Arms’ Length” is Beatle-esque trip -hop and “Sad Flashback from a Happy Movie” is a swell keyboard/ synth journey à la Pink Floyd. Album closer “Perfectly Fine” is a straight shot between Fountains of Wayne and the Beatles with its precisely aimed melodic structure.
Slow Runner has been on track to be big for years now and this album can only seal the deal. Hearts and Plugs have done us a great service by releasing this album upon the world and it is only a matter of time before these guys blow up to the hugest levels.
Recommended if you like: Fountains of Wayne, Tame Impala, Chromatics
Sean Knight is a native South Carolinian who has spent his life bouncing back and forth between SC and Texas, playing in bands you probably never heard of in both states and stinking up open-mic nights in the Low Country for many years. He plays, collects, listens to and probably spends too much of his life obsessing over music.