Self-titling usually implies that this is a band’s
definitive work, something that says, “This is not only our band’s album. This is our band.” That’s a risky move for Royal
City, the now-defunct
Guelph/Toronto band whose 2001 Three Gut/Rough Trade album Alone at the
Microphone has been widely considered its crowning achievement.
Predictably, this new retrospective-filled with B-sides, alternate takes of
previously released songs (“Bad Luck”) and covers (Iggy Pop’s “Success,” The
Strokes’ “Is This It?”)-doesn’t match that album’s consistency, but it’s not a
far cry, either. Royal City is a worthy addition
to the band’s catalog, not just an odds-and-sods rehashing.
Singer/songwriter Aaron Riches worked mostly in lo-fi mode,
though not harshly so. “Can’t You Hear Me Calling” is a prototypical Royal City
joint, just Riches’ off-kilter deadpan, light picking and some lonesome
harmonica and slide guitar. Songs like that take more than a few listens to hit
home, so at first glance, it’d be easy to write them off as a mellower
Weakerthans coated with a little Will Oldham. But there’s more depth to it than
that. The frantic stuff is a beautiful counterbalance, too; “Success” and “Bad
Luck” are the standouts here in that category. What’s also striking is that,
despite disbanding in 2004, Royal City
sounds quite modern and fits right in with much of Asthmatic Kitty’s catalog.
(AK head guru Sufjan Stevens, a longtime fan, hosted the band in his living
room for their first U.S.
show back in the day.)
The slow-mo take on “Is This It?” is a bit gimmicky, as is
the cheeky “Dog Song.” And Alone at the Microphone is still the best jumping-off
point for RC newbies, but for a posthumous collection, this album is a fitting
eulogy to an overlooked band.
Standout Tracks: “A Belly Was Made for Wine,” “Here Comes Success,” “I Called But You Were
Sleeping” JOEL OLIPHINT