Slow Runner’s New Monsters is a 10-track, 30-minute sprint through vignettes of happiness, hopefulness, desperation and loneliness; a pinwheel of emotions that shows us how quickly the colors can blur even with just a slight, passing breeze.
Anticipation for the fifth studio record from duo Michael Flynn and Josh Kaler has been building ever since Flynn, performing solo at Hearts and Plug’s Summer Shindig in July, announced that the Holy City’s favorite dork rockers would be reuniting. After the announcement, Flynn played the eventual title track, and the keyboard pounding and deep synthesizers made it evident that this man is clearly not f***king around.
“[The album] is all about the things going on in my life right now,” said Flynn. “Watching parents fade into elderly versions of themselves, getting older myself and feeling nostalgia for earlier eras of my life, trying to appreciate time as it slips through my fingers.”
Slow Runner has over a decade of history with the Charleston music scene, touring the U.S. together, and are now the latest number in the little black book of Hearts & Plugs—a label that is putting the Charleston scene in a brighter and brighter spot light.
In the past, Flynn has typically written all the songs to near completion before sending to Kaler, but this record entered collaboration earlier in the process as Flynn frequented Kaler’s studio in Nashville throughout 2015.
“I showed him [the songs] much earlier, in rougher form, just fragments that we then hammered into songs together. It was fun to do it a little different this time and share more of that process…we were really in the same room for a lot of it, which was fun and inspiring and reminded me of college.”
Monsters is the group’s first record in five years since taking a hiatus after Damage Points in 2011. While Damage Points was an album that came off as a sad person desperately trying to get happy, New Monsters is on the other side of the emotional spectrum: A happy person fighting sadness, or at least slightly paranoid that the happiness may come to an end soon.
The final stanza, no pun intended, perhaps sums the album up best: Fine, perfectly fine / Swimming in doubt / Drowning in time / Like everyone else / Just flailing my arms / And staying alive / Perfectly fine.
When asked about the narrative of the record, Flynn responded, “Sometimes I wonder if it’s morbid and counterproductive, but I always try to appreciate the good moments of my life through the lens of Future Me, looking back and wishing I could travel back in time to that moment. Every life is a story that ultimately ends badly, and the knowledge of that in the back of our minds is what gives weight to the beautiful moments.”
New Monsters is an evolution of the Slow Runner sound, keeping the digi-pop approach of Damage Points while also bringing in some much welcomed bass-heavy synthesizers and atmospheric elements like a brazen, stuttering trumpet on “Bike Thieves” and strings on “Arms Length” and the entrancing instrumental “Happy Flashback from a Sad Movie”.
“We’ve always kind of built arrangements from the ground up, first the basic rhythms and core instruments,” noted Flynn. “Then lots and lots of garnish until it doesn’t feel like there are any holes or uninteresting moments.”
Monsters accomplishes something that is not necessary of a great album, but when it happens, is means for a great album: it creates its own set of rules and expectations, plays by them, and occasionally breaks them for fun (see also: The Flaming Lips' Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots, or, for local reference, Brave Baby’s Electric Friends).
So what is the future of Slow Runner? Is this just a nice nostalgia trip a la the Jump, Little Children reunion tour this past winter?
“We’re not going back to living in a van playing dive bars 365, but I seriously doubt this is the last record we’ll ever make,” Flynn assured. “In fact I suspect as long as the songs are there we’ll keep making music long past the point when anybody cares. Hey, maybe this is that point! I can’t wait to find out.”
New Monsters is available as of today, March 25, on iTunes and fans are encouraged to pick up a vinyl copy at Monster Music in Charleston and Papa Jazz in Columbia, or on the Hearts and Plugs web store.
For fans of: Spoon, The Flaming Lips, The Postal Service, OK Go, Ben Folds