Five albums in and it’s still not entirely clear what kitchen-sink indie rockers Royal Bangs want to be. Granted, they’ve come a long way since 2006’s Strokes-indebted breakthrough We Breed Champions—an influence they’ve wisely abandoned on Brass—but their crisp, polished take on indie rock circa 2013, enjoyable and catchy as it is, never quite gels. Frontman Ryan Schaefer possesses an uncanny vocal similarity to Bono, which distracts, but is hardly a deal-breaker, on the opening “Better Run” and “Hope We Don’t Catch”.
More troublingly, though, the band’s hopscotching through genres means Brass never gathers momentum: Side A runs from the post-punky “Orange Moon” to the white boy soul of “Octagon” to the poor man’s Afghan Whigs of “Windowloops of America” and the car-windows-down ‘70s rock of “Sun Bridge”, while Side B alternates between punchy (“Hope We Don’t Crash”, “100 Years”) and more languid numbers (“CA Heart Attack”, “Wilderness”). Lyrically, much of Brass is occupied with encroaching maturity (see the “It’s not too late to give up our dreams, live in the real world, get a job and go to sleep” in “Octagon” or “Calling your friends, calling your relatives, tell ‘em you’re not the fool that you were supposed to be,” from “Better Run”). For better or worse, throughout Brass there isn’t a concomitant musical sense of committing to an identity.