The Royal Sea – s/t EP

The Royal Sea - s/t EP

Surfer Blood. Best Coast.  Wavves.  As is evidenced simply by their handles, these acts have all successfully aligned themselves with the halcyon aesthetics of the ocean, forever branded as lo-fi heirs to the Golden State paeans begun by the Beach Boys some 45 years ago.  Soaked in imagery of palm trees, sunshine, and shaka signs, the allure of surf rock has always been undeniable, but it also quickly begins to sound dated and kitschy, like watching footage of Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon cavorting on the pristine shores of the Pacific.

Thanks to a deliberate fusion of old school charm and modern DIY grit, the genre’s newest wave of talent (sorry!) has dialed down the camp and replaced it with pining nostalgia, creating a microcosm where urban hipster cool and wistful shoreline reveries can coexist beyond Brian Wilson’s shadow.

Needless to say, the land of Starbucks and evergreen trees is not the first place on the map we’d go for some nascent surf rock inspiration, but lo and behold, that’s exactly where you’ll find the Royal Sea, a quartet whose Emerald City pairing seems to defy all logic and stereotype.  Only recently able to step outside of its grunge music identity thanks to the sparkling, harmony-rich ambience of groups like Fleet Foxes and Band of Horses, the Royal Sea moves Seattle even closer to Southern California with a chimerical blend of guitar pop jangle and lovelorn sentimentality.

Whether or not Timmy Sunshine (again, the importance of branding) and his bandmates bring anything original to the scene is definitely up for debate, but it’s more difficult to refute their songwriting chops; the band’s self-titled debut is a sprightly potpourri of singalong melodies, buoyant summertime grooves, and pop music architecture.  Originally released in July of 2011, it’s a challenge to take in such unabashedly balmy songs amidst the glimmer of Christmas lights and frost-covered landscapes, but it’s even harder to fathom how such music was conjured in a milieu known as the epicenter of incessant rainfall and the gateway to Alaska.  More power to them.

Featuring a simple vocals/guitar/bass/drums attack, the Royal Sea clearly prizes lyrics and melody above all else, which makes it easy to digest in one sitting but tempting for repeated listens.  The opening one-two punch of “This Summer” and “L.A.” immediately transports the listener southward with the titillating chug of power chords and wordless falsetto vocal rushes.  Rife with vivid storytelling, Sunshine’s lyrics about sublime romance (“We watched the sun touch the mountains / we slept on stars and moonlight”) and intoxicating landscapes (“Where the ocean meets the waves / where the sunlight guides your way / there’s pretty bars / and pretty cars/ and pretty girls in LA”) only encourage the sort of doe-eyed wonderment that makes this music so marketable.

Elsewhere on the EP, we find a touch of shoegaze (“City Lights”), psychedelic musing (“Out of My Mind”), and purgative balladry (“You Should Know”).  The band sells it all with remarkable panache, as Sunshine’s vocals veer from a keening yawp to a tentative baritone depending on the tempo and volume.  Theo Krantz’s lead guitar lines glisten throughout, and Jettie Sunshine (Timmy’s wife) brings plenty of spunky clatter on the drums.  The only element tossed aside is Evan Kuykendall’s bass guitar, often buried in the mix to the point of being nonexistent.

There is likely to be a faction of listeners that view the Royal Sea as merely cashing in on a current trend, but this stance also unfortunately ignores the fact that – surf rock or otherwise – this Seattle has formidable pop music prowess.  Most tunes that lack a solid groove, memorable hook, and/or intelligible lyrics rarely make an impact beyond a niche audience, but the Royal Sea does consistently handy work with all three.  If it sounds this good here at the winter solstice, just imagine how it’ll resonate six months from now.