Run Chico Run: Slow Action

Another solid album by the one Victoria, BC band you probably haven't heard about.

Run Chico Run

Slow Action

Label: Boompa
US Release Date: 2006-03-21
UK Release Date: Available as import

There's a reason most reviews of Run Chico Run records are only one paragraph long: they're an incredibly difficult band to review. In other words, they force we music critics to actually work for once, to actually buckle down and attempt to put into words why the Victoria, British Columbia duo is so darn compelling. More often than not, though, the best most critics have done is admit defeat, toss off a lazy single paragraph, and haul out a stream of tired adjectives: "Unclassifiable." "Absurd." "Esoteric." "Weird." On a personal note, I must confess to having abandoned hope of filling out a 700-word review of 2004's marvelously strange Shashbo, in favor of a more concise 270-word piece for this site. A year and a half later, with another slice of West Coast indie rock strangeness ready to enthrall, befuddle, and hypnotize, the band deserves some more detailed critical attention, so it's time for a proper attempt, thesaurus at the ready.

Much like their fellow Victoria brethren Casey Mercer (Frog Eyes) and Spencer Krug (Wolf Parade, Sunset Rubdown), multi-instrumentalists Matt Skillings and Thomas Shields excel at creating an enticing art rock/indie pop hybrid that draws from a wide musical palette, and in true Western Canadian fashion, there's not a lick of pretense present in the music whatsoever, as underneath all the eccentricity, there's a much more straightforward pop songwriting element that keeps it all grounded. Nothing in the music is arbitrary; even the stranger departures seem to have a purpose, leading towards rewarding payoffs. It was apparent on the charming Shashbo, and even more so on Slow Action, which improves on the lo-fi feel of the previous disc, the more polished production emphasizing the impressive fact that such fleshed-out, full-sounding music is the product of just two musicians.

Both Skillings and Shields share lead vocal duties, and the differences in each person's style quickly become apparent. Shields's lively singing style projects an almost playful quality throughout the five tracks he sings on. "Clockwork Crows" bounces along at a new wave-ish pace (more similar to The Nein than, say, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah!) as Shields spews esoteric poetry before the song dissolves into a whimsical reggae-inspired bridge. "Oneanotherwell" bears a strong resemblance to Dan Bejar's contributions to the New Pornographers (aided by a hummable Moog synth melody), while "Slow Action is the Best Action" melds Akron/Family-like harmonizing and feedback drones with the kind of Weill-esque cabaret that we heard on Shashbo. The cutely bizarre seven minute epic "Broadcaster" makes like Modest Mouse going krautrock, as a pulsating motorik style beat gently underscores lilting guitar licks and chiming keyboard stabs, Shields's ebullient falsetto sounding more charming than grating.

Skillings, meanwhile, brings considerably more mood to the album. The electric piano-dominated "Smitten" is a darkly gorgeous tune, and is not the first time Skillings's deadpan tenor has resembled that of Thom Yorke. "Old Men's Clothes" features a cool, psychedelic rock guitar riff that hearkens back to early Flaming Lips, the funereal "Silver Train Hour" combines bass, drums, piano, and organ, lurching along like Hail to the Thief-era Radiohead (but with, dare I say, a stronger sense of melody), and "Little Hairs a Curling" will do just that to listeners, its sinewy blues riff and nocturnal organ darkening the mood even more, sending chills down our collective spines.

Slow Action is a timely reminder that there's nothing wrong with being just a bit left of center in the songwriting department, just as long as the hooks are there. Like any other Run Chico Run album, it requires plenty of patience, but even cynical listeners will be surprised at how songs like "Broadcaster" and "Sportscars for Everyone" burrow their way into our subconscious. It's yet another first-rate effort from one of Canada's most underrated acts, one that deserves to be heard by more than dedicated Canadian indie rock enthusiasts, not to mention given a fitting, full-length review by yours truly. I've done my part, now it's time for you to do yours, and give this talented duo some attention.


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If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

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10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton

9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton

8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

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7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge

6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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