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Aural Fix: Royal Canoe

Aural Fix: Royal Canoe

Photo by Sterling Andrews
Photo by Sterling Andrews

Royal Canoe is best compared to a looking glass that conjures up strange, smoky visions of the modern world. At first gaze, there’s a young man fumbling with the buttons of a woman’s blouse outside of a nightclub as snow falls. Then it shifts, and you see a dented Jaguar speeding through the city night, its driver red-eyed and greasy, restlessness pushing him aimlessly onward. Like the shifting glass, Royal Canoe’s music is chameleonic, and goes from one style to the next with a confidence that is hidden and casual.

Their first full-length album, 2013’s Today We’re Believers, does what other bands regularly fail at: bridge the gap between pop music and art music. While being unabashedly experimental in their time signatures and sound effects, the songs never stray far enough from a hook so as to lose the listener’s attention. Each song is made up of enough riffs, chord progressions, and rhythmic stops that the listener would understandably be overwhelmed were it not for the continuity of groove and vocal melody. It is this rhythmic continuity that shines most on the album. Through all manner of syncopation and unusual meter, the bass and drum section (drum kit and electronic percussion pad) are so locked in as to be just short of mechanical. The results are songs that are as funky as Prince or Michael Jackson, but in 7/4 or 9/8 time.

The frontman, Matt Peters, is part of the reason why their magic act comes off with such swagger and charisma. His energetic and occasionally vocoded voice is part big-lipped Mick Jagger, part Tunde Adebimpe husky soul. The rest of their sound is built up by some of the most appealing homemade keyboard tones in modern indie music, ranging from quivering high organ to underwater harps to laser synth. Hailing from Winnipeg, Manitoba, this hardworking band is just now slowing down to record their next album over the winter. Let’s hope their next work is just as chimerical. »

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– Ethan Martin