Album Review: ROYAL CANOE – Extended Play
HIT PLAY WHILE YOU READ:
“Don’t forget to focus close on the air above your nose” begin the lyrics to the opening track of pop-rock six-piece ROYAL CANOE’s aptly-titled EP Extended Play, and if the purpose of this choice of words was to try and get audiences to pay closer attention to this talented sextet from Winnipeg they may have just succeeded.
At the very least it worked on me…
Following up their 2010 full-length release Co-Op Mode, this latest four-track offering from ROYAL CANOE makes for a solid listening session – falling in at about 17-minutes and change – and sees the band reaching into a laid-back dancier version of the path they were previously treading (imagine if MUTE MATH turned off the distortion and played with a few more effects on the keys and that’ll give you a good starting point for comparison).
The djembe/synth intro to “Hold On To The Metal” begins with a slow build, adding nuanced percussion pieces and additional instruments towards the minute mark when everything comes together with a punch.
Listeners will definitely find themselves taking this track away from Extended Play when they stop listening: it’s hooky as hell, has some infectious vocal and key melodies, and it burns itself into your memory centres such that you’ll find yourself whistling the tune when you’re making a sandwich, showering, or trying to write a review for something else… which is aggravating, but definitely plays to the effectiveness of the track as a solid single.
“Bathtubs” starts with a hollow-toned background conversation alongside some echoed drumming off in the distance. The smooth treble-tone-heavy bass quickly picks things up like a late-70s funk score to a Blaxploitation film, but this first impression easily subsides alongside the synth, effect-laden keys, strings, and occasional church bell chimes eventually merging into a mash-up between a contemporary OWEN PALLETT track and something from a midi-scored early-90s video game… which is awesome.
Here, the harmonized vocals, strings and church bells really play off well against the repetitive bass hammer-ons, and a dark vocoder effect emerges from the woodwork in the back two minutes of the track for some additional layered textures.
This eventually fades off into “Bloodrush”: a muffled heartbeat-like drum intro and frantically struck piano notes underlain beneath a vocoder-heavy lyric line introduce the listener to a curiously complex track that continues this trend of escalation throughout the EP. Non-vocoder vocals fade in with the titular utterance around one-minute in, and the bass starts up with the much anticipated dancy flavour at the two-minute mark.
Again though, let it be emphasized how low-key this is in its danciness: the rhythm is definitely there, but it’s so overtly NOT in your face musically – with its clean piano strikes and swirling ambient effects alongside the bass and percussion – that these two ideas almost seem like a musical oxymoron. And yet, they work splendidly, which you’ll notice when you start to sing along in the bridge with “when you finally go, you’re gonna explode”.
Curiously ROYAL CANOE ends things on kind of a slower note with “Caught In A Loop” – hinting at several musical cues from the earlier tracks but in a much more ambient fashion.
Opening with a drum beat quite similar to that found in opening track “Hold On To The Metal”, “Loop” is primarily a simple repetitive bass line and lyric vocal track, featuring an accompaniment of subtle percussion, vocalized ooos and aahs, occasional guitar chords and a six-note piano hook – all of which loop in and out of the background beneath the vocal line to arguably (and aptly, maybe?) loop back in on the intro to the first track with a slow fade: so if you happened to have this sucker on loop you’d never actually have to stop listening to ROYAL CANOE’s new EP.
But would you really want to?
That’s perhaps a question for another day – find out for yourself when ROYAL CANOE hit Toronto for several dates at Canadian Music Fest this week:
CMW 2012 Show Dates:
03/22 – 9:00 PM @ The Drake Underground
03/23 – 3:30 PM @ Toronto Institute For The Enjoyment of Music (821 Queen St. W.) – ACOUSTIC SET
03/24 – 9:00 PM @ Hard Luck Bar