[12 July 2013]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Austin-based Royal Forest has apparently recorded in some bizarre places, if their press notes are to be believed: a single-prop airplane above the Texas hill country, inside a WWII submarine in Galveston and in a lightning storm among the Monahans sand dunes. But for a band that is pegged as psychedelic rock, their sound isn’t quite so out there. Royal Forest comes across as what you’d get if fellow Austin-ites Spoon meet forces with Wilco, particularly latter-period Wilco. (Indeed, laconic vocalist Cody Ground sounds, at times, as a dead ringer for Jeff Tweedy.) So this is pretty poppy indie rock with some country-rock flourishes, and Spillway is a mostly agreeable collection of songs.
The song that most grabs you on the initial listen is “John Denver”, a particularly Wilco-esque ode to the late, squeaky clean country singer. But there are other treasures to be had. Closing song “Man-Made Lakes” is anthemic and jaunty, and renders itself as astonishingly haunting. Piano ballad “Broken Bow” is a fragile treasure, perhaps the most overt Spoon-like moment on the record – if Spoon were crossed with the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life”. Unfortunately, the album is less spectacular when the group gets a little more experimental and begins to employ drum loops, such as on opener “Everyone Who Knows You” and “Castro”. The short but prog-rocky “Almost Done” is kind of garish in its own particular way, too. Despite that, and the rather turbulent sequencing of the material (“John Denver” feels a bit weird following “Everyone Who Knows You”, for instance), there are some winnable moments on Spillway. Fans of Spoon and Wilco may get their fill while waiting for new material from these respective bands.