In the past year, Toronto’s Three Gut Records have firmly established themselves as the darlings of the Canadian independent music scene. If the press is to be believed, the label is turning a lot of heads internationally with showcases at all of the major festivals. The reason? The Fugazi-influenced post-punk of The Constantines and the ragged country-tinged rock of Royal City are simply too good to be ignored.
While their debut record was solid, it only hinted at what was to come with Alone at the Microphone, Royal City’s sophomore effort. Where the debut came across as more of a solo effort with frontman Aaron Riches tapping some extra musicians for support, this is a true band effort, written after a year of near constant touring and the difference is startling.
They’ve certainly not gained any polish, thank God, but the ragged charm is fully fleshed out with a much more satisfying range of tones and instruments. Riches has added a banjo to his arsenal, drums and keys occupy a much more prominent position in the mix, and they no longer feel the need to keep everything downtempo. Essentially, Royal City has moved from being a band that hinted at greatness with their debut to an act that fully realized that potential in one enormous step.
Alone at the Microphone moves effortlessly from hauntingly beautiful pieces of work (“Under a Hollow Tree,” “Spacey Basement”) to simply haunting pieces of near-apocalyptic intensity (“Bad Luck,” “Dank is the Air of Death and Loathing”) with shocking ease, the two moods often nestling close together in the same piece. Riches is a powerful songwriter who has learned to use his unorthodox voice to full effect, delivering his often unsettling images with casual aplomb. Easily one of the best records of the past year.
Written by Chris Brown.