[16 January 2014]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
U.S. Royalty is a four-piece from Washington, D.C., and they’ve taken their time with their follow-up to 2011’s Mirrors. Part of the reason has to do with band members and brothers John and Paul Thornley’s father passing away (which may explain why the cover art for the sophomore effort, Blue Sunshine, appears to have been taken in a graveyard). But it seems that this is a band concerned with quality and not quantity, and Blue Sunshine is the product of that line of thinking. There’s not a dud among the bunch of 11 songs, which evoke a ‘70s West Coast sun-shinny vibe with a dose of the dour and psychedelic. Think Fleetwood Mac, particularly Stevie Nicks Fleetwood Mac, and you’d be in the right direction, but some songs here have a U2 meets early Tom Cochrane vibe. Whatever you want to call Blue Sunshine, it’s something you could call a grower: Impressive on the very first listen, it takes a few walks around the metaphorical block before these songs drape across you like that leather jacket worn on the front cover.
While the record is an abundance of riches, the very best bit is “Only Happy in the County”, which has a jangle rock feel and is quite jumpy. It is the standout amongst standouts. However, despite the abundance of quality material on Blue Sunshine, you can’t help but think that the whole thing feels a bit on the anonymous side. The Spanish guitar instrumental “De Profundis”, while showy, feels like it should belong on another disc entirely, as does folksy opener “Into the Thicket”. However, this is a remarkably strong collection of songs, released in the dead of winter – which isn’t really kind to new releases; mid-January seems to be nothing but a dumping ground for material that wouldn’t cut it in the previous calendar year. That’s not the case with Blue Sunshine, and it is a welcome blast of melancholic pop with a Californian sheen. U.S. Royalty is a band unafraid to take their time between releases, especially so for an unsigned group, and Blue Sunshine is the kind of album that will have you wondering what’s to come from these guys in the year 2017.