Royal City – Alone at the Microphone

Royal City
Alone at the Microphone

Three Gut Records is not so much an indie music label as a family of bands. The Canadian music press has heaped loads of acclaim on every band in the family (The Constantines, Gentlemen Reg, Cuff the Duke), but there is no question that Royal City is the label’s showcase act. This is not surprising considering that label founder Jim Guthrie (Gut-thrie… three-gut… get it?) is a member of the group.
Royal City first raised eyebrows with the release of their debut album At Rush Hour the Cars. While that disc buried its best tracks amongst an overabundance of filler, their most recent release, Alone at the Microphone, is a huge leap forward. Haunting harmonicas, acoustic guitars, banjos, and unconventional vocal harmonies frame singer-songwriter Aaron Riches’ twisted country-tinged lyrics perfectly. Recurring images of blood, shit, demons, and death are effortlessly combined with lighter lyrical themes such as relationships, aging, and plain old melancholy. While the production on the album is raw and unpolished, Aaron Riches’ distinct voice comes through clear and clean and resonates perfectly with the instruments.
While there are still many moments of quiet reflection (“Dank is the Air” and “You are the Vine”), Royal City is less afraid to raise the volume on this disc than on their past release. “Bad Luck” opens the album with layered guitar riffs that mutate into a steel-drum beat before exploding into a full-out rock tune. “My Brother is the Meatman” features snappy drums and a catchy chorus that belies the strange creepiness of the lyrics. Arguably, however, the highlight of the album is “Spacey Basement,” with its irresistible loud-soft dynamic, layered harmonies, and lyrics that hint at a bizarre story that is never fully explained.
Royal City has taken the classic country-rock formula, turned it on its head, and created a sound all their own. Alone at the Microphone is accessible without being predictable and creative without being pretentious. Definitely worthy of many repeat listens.