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Thursday, November 23, 2017 
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Royal City
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Alone At The Microphone
Three Gut
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I've seen Toronto alt-country quartet Royal City live more than any other band. And each time I see them, I get closer to the music and the band themselves. The next time I go to a show, I'll have to sit in singer Aaron Riches' lap if I want to get any closer. Every time they play I hear more layers in their music. The smaller the venue, the truer their playing is to their second longplayer, Alone at the Microphone, which sounds like it was recorded in a tiny bedroom.

At first spin, Alone at the Microphone could be a lost Neil Young record. Harmonicas, banjos and gentle tape hiss are standard throughout. The lyrics are full of dark, at times unpleasant imagery. "Daisies" is the first track that really grabbed me, simply because of its queer lyrics and standout guitar riffs. Sardonically, Riches sings, "There's blood on the floor/ Pork chops on the stove/ Come all over the bathroom door/ Daisies growin' out of your eyes, baby." You can hear him holding back laughter as he sings. He does a 180 with "Blood and Faeces," which finds him delicately singing to a murdered lover: "You linger, you hide/ Under my floorboards you sigh/ You know, don't you?"

The truly stunning songs, however, are the ones with ghostly scope, like the haunting piano on "Spacey Basement," the simple echo of repeating chords during "You Are the Vine" and Riches' disarming vocals as he sings "Dank Is the Air of Death and Loathing": "Ray of light, a pedal in my room/ I will not go forth without you." It's not the meaning of these lyrics that makes them so powerful, but the gut-wrenching delivery, reminiscent of such Royal City contemporaries as Songs:Ohia and Bonnie "Prince" Billy.

In a perfect world, Royal City would be the band in the back seat of your Olds, rocking the banjo while you drove through a sweltering desert afternoon, with windows wide open. As dusk approached, you'd take them to a roadhouse bar, and they'd win over the locals by wailing "Bad Luck" ("You will never know/ The places I go to without you").

There are moments on Alone at the Microphone that sound like mistakes. By that I mean that the album sounds casual, offhand, full of folk-country magic. Royal City dig into their subconscious, and bring to the surface some of the dirt and grime they find there. Yet despite their strange, at times dark lyrical imagery, Alone at the Microphone sparkles like a brand new harmonica. You just can't help but play it.


by Kate Guay




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