Music review

Believe It: Royal Canoe’s Ruthlessly Experimental Alternative LP

Despite a surprisingly lengthy career so far, Canada’s Royal Canoe has still been reserved in publicity, but their newest record Today We’re Believers aims to change that. By embracing a spacey and spiritual sound, Royal Canoe takes the vibes from modern indie and almost obsessively deconstructs and reconstructs them. Royal Canoe diverges from the catchy pop hooks and takes a chance by developing music with intense texture. It’s confidently experimental, but not in a way that alienates the typical listener; Today We’re Believers is a record from a band that simply can’t sit still and that desire to stay moving and exploring is what makes the record such a joy to listen to.

Today We’re Believers does a whole lot. There aren’t too many songs that would be considered “radio-friendly” (at least not on the level of their peers like Young the Giant or AWOLNATION), but admirably, Royal Canoe prove their chops with constant experimentation and soundscapey atmosphere. No song on Today We’re Believers sounds the same; the band jumps from genre to genre, taking every class of music and tossing it into a blender. Like the classification-defying project Gorillaz (specifically during the Plastic Beach era), the members of Royal Canoe don’t limit themselves to what their radio-flooding peers are doing. At one point you’ll hear the exotic “Hold on to the Metal” with its toned and tuned guitars, the next you’ll hear a smooth effect-laden electronic groove on “Just Enough.” This sense of impatience actually works to the group’s advantage; Today We’re Believers has a lot of life, all stemming from the band’s desire to keep things interesting and surprising.

The capitalization on electronics lets the group integrate diverse sounds throughout the record. “Light” demonstrates a warped, almost otherworldly vocal mix and escalating pitches in its second half. The buzzy synths of “Bathtubs” blend seamlessly with the constant motions of vocal effects. Royal Canoe have the makings of indie pop success with their Moby-esque mastery of electronic sounds and groove-laden uses of traditional instrumentation. The use of the synthesizers and the blip-bloops of early 2000’s electronica keep their music from getting stale. It’s unabashedly retro, but also captivatingly current; it strikes a balance and settles into a comfortable spot between the past and present.

But are the songs interesting? For the most part, yes. There are a few missteps, like the slightly drawn-out “Stemming”, but Royal Canoe nail the sense of experimentation that their field has brought to life. The most noticeable issue comes from the moments when the experimentation tones itself down and the more traditional musical elements appear. “If I Had a House” has a surprisingly intense vocal punch, but without a sense of quirkiness and “outside the box” drive, the song doesn’t reach the potential of other songs on the album. “Button Fumbla” is a jumbly and upbeat song with infectious bass beats, and while it also has a broad creativity to it, it is another example of Royal Canoe falling into the pitfalls of their radio-friendly peers.

With so many bands trying to capitalize on pleasing crowds, all with a sense of minimalism in their musicianship, it’s very nice to see Royal Canoe take that slimmed-down, straight-ahead approach so seriously. The tracks are constantly shifting in aesthetic and influence, but the fluctuation isn’t distracting. In fact, it’s more enticing than anything; you’re bound to find a favorite across the twelve tracks. Is it perfect? No. Despite having a handle on the electronic elements, Royal Canoe are still trying to get a grip on the traditional elements like guitars and finding a vocal niche. They are by no means bad, but they are still unrefined. There’s still room to grow there. The indie scene is moving closer and closer to not being “indie” anymore; as these originally toned-down musicians attract bigger and bigger crowds, embracing experimentation is harder and harder to do. Royal Canoe take a step down a promising path with Today We’re Believers. If it’s a sign of the band’s musical vision for the future, this is a band that we’re bound to hear more about in the coming months. Keep an eye out for Royal Canoe, and in the meantime, listen to the clever and creative Today We’re Believers.