Tag Archives: royal blood

Royal Blood – How Did We Get So Dark?

15 Dec

Royal Blood

In 2014, Royal Blood was the subject of a massive amount of hype. On the back of a truly electric debut, the band rapidly built a fanbase comprising drunk teenagers, rockstars and living legends alike, and Royal Blood truly deserved all the hype. Their music is elemental testosterone with enough energy to consume stadiums, but it shocks the senses to realize that the sound comes from two people. Mike Kerr shreds a distorted bass to fill the dual role of a guitar and a bass, while being canny enough to sing great tunes as well. Ben Thatcher launches an array of weapons into your eardrums through, well, his drums. And that’s it. No other instruments, no other people.

Royal Blood sounded like the perfect mix of a grittier White Stripes, a leaner Queens of the Stone Age and a more masculine Franz Ferdinand. How Did We Get So Dark?, their sophomore album, doesn’t stray too far from the formula, but don’t get us wrong – that’s a good thing. While most bands tour to promote their new album, Royal Blood literally releases new music to get more people to come to their live shows. So yes, this album feels similar to the first, but that’s entirely by design. And given the fact that the moshpits have gotten bigger and crazier, we’d say Royal Blood is doing very well.

While the sound is similar, their talent has really progressed. The eponymous track starts off with the three Royal Blood tenets – sneering voice, magnetic riff, crazy drumming – but picks up texture through polished vocal layers. “She’s Creeping” slows down the pace, with Pixies-style languid vocals melting into an almost bluesy chorus. If you soften the bass, “Hole in Your Heart” almost becomes radio-friendly indie rock, a la Kaiser Chiefs or the Killers.

The lyrics have changed, too. Royal Blood seethed with the violence of an abusive relationship (“I’ve got a gun for my mouth and a bullet with your name on it,” went one memorable line), but they seemed to have moved on to a richer story. The title track paints a picture of a fitful relationship, and we learn on “Sleep” and “I Only Lie When I Love You” that both parties are cheating on one another. Kerr realizes that she’s not much beyond her looks (“Lights Out”) but he can’t just stay away (“Hook, Line & Sinker”).

Of course, being a Royal Blood album, the lyrics matter only to a certain extent. At the heart of it, the band makes absolutely kicker songs that can rev up large masses of humanity into a rock-induced frenzy. “Lights Out”, for lesser bands, would be a career-defining array of riffs and raw sex appeal; for Royal Blood, it’s just their first single. The opening riff on “Hook, Line & Sinker” might elicit a tear of pride from Ozzy’s eye. The galloping drums on “Where Are You Now?” give way to a riff so classic-rock that the Stones are probably head-banging to it somewhere. Need we go on?

On their sophomore album, Kerr and Thatcher espouse a very similar sound to their lean debut album, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Queens of the Stone Age continue to be a key touchpoint for Royal Blood’s sound, but there’s a happy evolution in the vocals, writing and arrangement to portend a thrilling future.

Best songs: “Lights Out”, “I Only Lie When I Love You”, “How Did We Get So Dark?”

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The Top Five Albums of 2014

1 Jan

It’s that time of the year again. As 2014 winds to a close, we take a look back at some of the music that awed and enthralled us throughout the year. The year was filled with remarkable debut albums by musicians that came into the world as fully-formed artists – here, we must remark that four of our top five albums are debut albums. So, without further ado, here’s our Top Five Albums of 2014.

5. LP1 by FKA twigs

FKA Twigs - LP1

As we’ve previously said, LP1 is a complex, intelligent and greatly satisfying record. At 26 years of age, FKA twigs has created a mirrorfor the lust, love and fractures in the relationships of her generation.

Refreshingly, FKA twigs does not tell us about soppy, overly-poetic relationships, as described by many an indie band, or about hollow, unrealistic hook-ups, as described by most EDM artists. Instead, she describes genuine stories that strike far closer to home. On the hauntingly sparse “Hours”, she’s in awe of her new man: “I could kiss you for hours/And not miss a thing”. On “Lights On”, she hints at setting aside her vulnerability to let her lover see her uglier shades (“When I trust you, we can do it with the lights on”). And on album-highlight “Two Weeks”, she seethes with lust over a lost lover(“I know it hurts/You know I’d put you first/I can fuck you better than her”), helplessly displaying the self-degrading vulnerability that she cautiously revealed to him earlier.

LP1 is an emotive essay on the most intense moments of an exceptionally passionate relationship. It manages to rework the most common themes in pop and R&B – passion, heartbreak, blinding love – into truly original, soulful music.

Best track: “Two Weeks”

4. Sunbathing Animals by Parquet Courts

Parquet Courts - Sunbathing Animals

Earlier this year, we praised Brooklyn-based Parquet Courts’ album Sunbathing Animals, complete with a laudatory comparison to the Strokes’ Is This It?.

Parquet Courts’ forte is their ability to transcribe the intensity of a live show straight into your headphones. On “Black and White”, lead singer Andrew Savage articulates the very intensity of their music (“Nothing makes my heart so wild as being in possession of a potent night/Racing down the stairs in a nude descension shedding and discarding my hide”) with a gunfire-like flow worthy of his surname. Quieter moments, too, are transliterated as fluidly: the laid-back “Dear Ramona” and “Into the Garden” act as much-needed breathers between frenetic pieces like the eponymous “Ducking and Dodging”.

Overall, Parquet Courts strike us as a promising band with a few things to iron out, foremost of which is Andrew Savage’s penchant to sing-shout furious, unintelligible lyrics (see: “Sunbathing Animals”). On the whole, we are certainly looking forward to more from this young, talented band!

Best track: “Black and White”

3. Jungle by Jungle

Jungle - Jungle

The opening riff of “Busy Earnin’”, the third track from Jungle’s eponymous album, elicits an image of an American cop show from the 1970s, perhaps set in Brooklyn or Queens, maybe starring an African-American actor as one of the cops. In reality, Jungle couldn’t be farther from the truth. Originally started by two childhood friends from London, the band has now become a soul-infused collective of seven musicians that strives for something rare in this time and age: honesty.

Founding members Tom McFarland and Josh Lloyd-Watson have stated that Jungle is “a collective and collective energy”, a tribute to the collaborative, borderless nature of music. It’s entirely fitting that their music videos usually feature dancing, exuberant people of all ages and races, perfectly exemplifying the essence of their music. From start to finish, Jungle is a seamless album of great integrity and true earnestness.

Take “Julia”, an ode to falling heads-over-heels with the eponymous woman (“Julia I don’t know a thing about you/Soon enough you’ll be all I ever need”). The lyrics are not complex, and the theme of falling in love at first sight is not uncommon. Yet, somehow, Jungle’s sincerity shines through ‘70s-influenced syncopated beats. Jungle is all about this kind of beauty, enshrouded in simplicity and plainness.

Much like 2013’s matchless Random Access Memories, Jungle is the must-listen album of 2014: it fills the listener with awe and joy of music’s great, unifying power.

Best track: “Busy Earnin’”

2. No Mythologies to Follow by MØ

MO - No Mythologies to Follow

At Top Five Records, we’re huge MØ fans. Her early single, “Pilgrim”, featured on a must-listen list way back in October 2012, and her full-length debut album topped our mid-year round up of 2014 albums. Almost a year after we first heard it, Karen Marie Ørsted’s debut album continues to enthrall us with her particular brand of Danish-English hypnotic pop.

Using sparse background beats and layered vocals, MØ uses the album to showcase her soaring, impressive voice in a stunningly aesthetic manner. On “Dust is Gone”, she sings about heartbreak with tear-jerking melancholia. On “Maiden”, she croons with about unveiling her vulnerability, utilizing the outstanding fluidity in her voice to create the effect of a naïve young girl. On our old favorite “Pilgrim”, mesmerizing handclaps and a lean brass section give MØ all the space she needs to fill the song with her soulful voice.

MØ is a true artist: she’s not afraid of singing stripped-bare, acoustic versions of her songs on an equestrian field, nor does she seem to be concerned with her appearance as a selling point for her musical talents. If No Mythologies to Follow is what she could show us in just her debut, we are extremely eager to hear more from her.

Best track: “Fire Rides”

1. Royal Blood by Royal Blood

Royal Blood - Royal Blood

Here’s an experiment to try at home. Play Royal Blood’s “Little Monster” to someone who has not heard the band previously. The song opens with a ridiculously hard-hitting riff that jolts the listener directly into a moshpit-like craze. Wailing guitars fight for space with intimidating drums, and the bassline purrs and growls like a caged beast. Ask your listener who the artist is: many would hazard a guess at a White Stripes B-side or a Muse take-out, and some would perhaps guess at a heady Queens of the Stone Age track. Now, watch the amazement dawn on your friend’s face when you explain that the arena-sized sound on “Little Monster” is, in fact, created by two people – on their debut album, no less.

Such is the immense power of Royal Blood, who have rightly been hailed as the Arctic Monkeys’ successor in the arena of massively popular British rock bands. Consisting of childhood friends Ben Thatcher and Mike Kerr, the band has been known to wreak destructive chaos in British clubs, moving fans into almost a drugged frenzy.

“Little Monster” is not an exception on Royal Blood, which clocks in at just over half an hour. Every song on the album is a seething, lean monster of hard rock riffs and Mike Kerr’s Reznor-esque, angsty voice. Arrogance is distilled into song on album opener “Out of the Black”, featuring lyrics that hint at a manipulative, abusive relationship (“So don’t breathe when I talk/’Cause you haven’t been spoken to/I got a gun for a mouth and a bullet with your name on it”). That a song of this intensity can have such darkly poetic lyrics is just another intriguing, intoxicating element of Royal Blood’s vortex.

It’s impossible to just stop at “Little Monster” and “Out of the Black”. The sixteen-note opening riff on “Come On Over” coils and uncoils with a reckless abandon that matches the song’s lyrics (“Let’s run away, get out of here/ I got no money and I don’t care”). “Figure It Out” is a sick ode from one partner of a love-hate relationship to the other; Kerr’s vocals drip with derision and self-disgust until he breaks into a toxic-sludge riff that will send chills through your spine.

Clearly, we could go on. Here’s the bottom line: listen to Royal Blood. We guarantee that it will be, without question, the best 32 minutes and 38 seconds of your day.

Best track: “Little Monster”

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