Review : Royal City - 1999-2004
TinymixtapesIn an interview with the dearly departed Bandoppler Magazine, Royal City songwriter Aaron Riches said of their album Alone at the Microphone, “A lot of the big themes stick in your head and they linger behind you. I really think of Alone At The Microphone as being very much an infernal vision. The mud wrestling in baths of shit and all this kind of stuff that Dante saw when he went to hell.” It was a devotion to this creeping, mystic spirituality that separated Royal City’s music from the legion of like-minded folkers, the trick card that imbued the band with a wild sense of purpose and informed their freewheeling, rangy twang.
Now, five years after the Ontario band’s dissolution, Asthmatic Kitty is releasing 1999-2004, a collection of scattered tracks, B-sides, covers, and leftovers from the band’s three LPs. The feel is strikingly cohesive, more like a record proper than its scattered origins would imply. Opening with a take on Iggy Pop’s “Here Comes Success,” the record wastes no time showcasing Royal City’s considerable strengths. Their strident, anthemic quality suggests The Arcade Fire (who opened for Royal City in their early days), but strips the outward grandeur of that band away, opting for a rawer, far nastier approach. The song falls apart with a miraculous freak-out — drums clattering, Riches shredding his words over violent guitar abuse — and segues seamlessly into “Can’t You Hear Me Calling,” which features little more than droning harmonica, a softly strummed acoustic guitar, one yearning slide guitar, and Riches’ earnest vocals, ominously recalling some aquatic mishap: "I got water in my teeth/ Sand and blood/ All over me."...full text
CokemachineglowFrom 1999 to 2004, Aaron Riches fronted Royal City, a lynchpin of the much-missed Three Gut Records. Now he studies Radical Orthodoxy at the University of Nottingham. First he proffers the boozy sin of Toronto’s alt-folk underground and then chooses to write a dissertation on the nature of God and all his works. This seeming contradiction is resolved in the words of Riches’ songs. Not every song references the metaphysical, but many do, and even his love songs are otherworldly. So on “A Belly was Made For Wine” Riches celebrates life in devout tones: “A feast was made for laughing… / Let the feast be lasting.” The Royal City catalogue is filled with such musings, and Riches’ devotions bring a level of depth to his songs not normally found even in a rich folk scene like that of Canada’s biggest city.
1999-2004 is a rare thing. Technically a career-spanning collection of b-sides, outtakes, covers, and rarities, it is much more than an odds-and-ends listening experience. Running the gamut from fully realized lost gems like “A Belly…” to bedroom sketches like “They Came Down,” 1999-2004 captures the range and potency the band possessed throughout its tenure. It’s so good that it jostles for position with the full lengths the band released. Much of this is due to the great musical instincts displayed in the sequencing of this compilation. According to bassist Simon Osborne, there is more material in the vaults. Rather than throw everything into the pot and slap it together chronologically, however, the band relies on their still-sharp musical instincts to create a record of surprising drama and depth....full text
NoripcordThe hazards of B-side compilations are known and revered like almighty tablets of truth; discount these fair warnings and risk feeling ripped off. Such releases are commonly (I.) excused as label cash-ins, (II.) composed of experiments gone awry or rough ideas abandoned and (III.) destined for completists and die-hard fans only. Having obeyed these tablets of truth faithfully throughout the years, I admit my approach to 1999-2004, the posthumous rarities compilation by Royal City, was guarded by a few preconceptions.
And yet I couldn’t ignore the tizzy this release was causing from the band’s hometown of Guelph, Ontario, through their adopted city of Toronto. Magazines and bloggers alike were issuing exclamation-mark riddled statements of “FINALLY” while a collective of well-known Canadian artists recently held a concert-vigil consisting exclusively of Royal City covers. So why all the commotion about a B-sides album? Are the band members reuniting? Is this some mythological album recklessly buried or shelved by a disputing label? No, none of the above. These are last remnants… the odds and sods of a band five years dead, tied lovingly into a hardback package courtesy of Asthmatic Kitty. Its spine smells of suffocated library books, its title reads as an epitaph, graceful but unadorned. That this collection of scraps has been feasted upon so ravenously by press and fans should suggest Royal City were under-appreciated during their tenure, and in these twelve songs, Asthmatic Kitty makes a solid bid to multiply the band’s devotees....full text
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