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Royal City | Alone At The Microphone (Three Gut Records)
In December of last year, Toronto's eye magazine sent ballots to music critics Canada-wide, requesting they submit their preferred albums and singles of the year, and also their brightest hope for 2002. In the latter category, Royal City came in third place ?? one below Starsailor, and one above The White Stripes. If lists interest you, that's a pretty interesting stat. But, now I am personally under the spell of this extraordinary band, I can confidently state that it is but a matter of time before most anywhere with electricity joins the Canuck scribes in embracing them with tears in their eyes, and joy unsurpassed in their hearts! Royal City, you see, are just about the perfect band, and 'Alone At The Microphone' is just about the perfect album. In defining perfect here, I talk in terms of the soul and humour of Silver Jews, Will Oldham and David Pajo, the pain and anger of Jason Molina, the rustic beauty of Frog Holler and Retsin, the songwriting prowess of Neil Young, and the gothic madness of Alan Moore. Band focus Aaron Riches, Nathan Lawr, Jim Guthrie and Simon Osbourne interact with such intuition and utmost understanding, that the results are breathtaking. It happens rarely, but when it does, it produces things like 'The Basement Tapes', 'Reckoning' and 'Marquee Moon' ?? and now, this ?? Royal City's second album (following 2000's beautiful Palace-a-thon 'At Rush Hour The Cars') ?? a bonafide instant classic. From the opening notes of Bad Luck to the closing notes of And Miriam Took A Timbrel In Her Hand, they just don't put a foot wrong. In the opener, we have an echoey banjo, cantering percussion and forceful acoustic strum, with Riches coming over like Gordon Gano on calming medication. My Brother Is The Meatman concerns Riches' brother. He's a butcher, don't you know. Rum Tobacco is Frankie Sparo guesting with Giant Sand after the tequila worm digests, and Spacey Basement needs no other description than perfect pop song. The delicate Blood And Faeces, meanwhile, will have you welling up to a song with shit in the title. No mean feat. The lyrics are an absolute riot of nightmare images; sickness, death, decay, filth and grime are the order of the day, and that's just the love songs. How about, "I met you in the alley / all covered in maggots (Bad Luck)? Or There's kerosene on the bed / a laughing goat under head" (Meatman)? And then there's the hair-raising ambient gorgeousness of Don't You, which tells of "dung in ditches / and illness in muddy places" and of casting all regret "into the dirty ear of death." And yet, this is a light and airy, perversely uplifting collection of stinky alt.country pop, because the melodies are so immaculate, and because it is infused with a very cheeky, deadpan humour. To illustrate, I ask you all to join me now in a shot of moonshine, blanketed up around the midnight campfire, belly full of beans, and head slightly swimming. Royal City is here, and breaks out the instruments. Here we go, altogether now... "There are daisies growin' outta your ass, baby / daisies growin' outta your ass, baby / there's blood on the floor / pork chops on the stove / cum all over the bathroom door / daisies growin' outta your ass, baby." Royal City ?? truly regal, utterly majestic, and sick, beautiful bastards.

Tom Sheriff
CWAS #11 - Autumn 2002

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