Royal Canoe

Paper Bag Records, 2019


REVIEW BY: Vish Iyer


By now, not knowing what the next Royal Canoe record is going to be like is a given. These guys from Winnipeg, Canada thrive on eccentricity and on being unpredictable. Staying true to this reputation, Waver takes a turn from the group’s previous two releases (2013’s Today We're Believers and 2016’s Something Got Lost Between Here And The Orbit) and strips down the complex layers of music that have been the bedrock of its predecessors into “leaner arrangements and clearer melodies,” as frontman Matt Peters puts it.

Crazy musical arrangements and mad beats gave a distinct character to Royal Canoe’s music. The toning down – or even lack – of this on Wavermy_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 is certainly noticeable; it overamplifies some of the slower numbers, making them sound dull, a quality that is the exact reverse of what Royal Canoe’s music is all about. For example, “77-76” is a low energy song with a generic-sounding chorus. “Peep This” is a droopy track that does not go anywhere. The same is the case with “Girl Of My Dreams,” which sounds pretty flavorless.

On the other hand, “May 17,” another slow cut, is much more interesting, thanks to Royal Canoe’s tried-and-true quirkiness. This time it comes in the form of the split-second yell that comes up throughout the song, ruffling its calmness with some “unwanted” shenanigans, and adding a lot of character to it.

By going with a more direct approach, Royal Canoe has unearthed a new side to their music, one that features crisp violins instead of fuzzy electronics and real drums instead of kooky drum machines. But the most prominent feature is the adoption of a minimalist sound when the group goes electronic, like they do on the album highlight and closer number “Don’t,” which is sparse, but totally warm and utterly gorgeous.

No matter the route charted by a certain song, Waver is still a multidimensional record. Of the other album highlights, “Spin Cycle,” which is one of the most colorful tracks here, is funky, thanks to what sounds like noise made by scatting horns. “RAYZ” has a soul-inspired Fitz And The Tantrums kind of sound, which is new and different for Royal Canoe. The opening cut “What’s Left In The River” has the band’s signature quirkiness while also being vulnerable and spaced out like a Radiohead song circa In Rainbows. It is also sort of a unique number for this band.

In some ways, Waver is less ambitious compared to Royal Canoe’s previous works. The songwriting here is simpler. It certainly does not try to compensate for the lack of complexity and idiosyncrasy in the musical composition. As a result, the band sounds like a generic indie outfit in some instances. Still, this release offers enough meat to make it a Royal Canoe disc, amply satisfying the itch for music that’s wonderfully different.

Rating: A-

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© 2019 Vish Iyer and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Paper Bag Records, and is used for informational purposes only.