Halfway through “Bad News, Strange Luck”, track six on Royal Bangs’s third full-length release, Flux Outside, the band performs an on-the-dime transition from reflective indie balladry to hyperactive electro rock. Gentle synth tones and crooning background vocals are interrupted on the downbeat by bright, rapid loops and a rushed, surging chorus. Three verses later, they’re on different ground altogether. With a blaring guitar fill as introduction, the band launches into a swinging, midtempo passage powered by a delicious, lyrical synth riff that would be at home on a Lynyrd Skynyrd number. Frontman Ryan Schaefer’s singing escalates gradually to a scream, improvising on the title lyric. It’s miles away from where the band was five minutes ago, but it feels completely natural.
They have a talent for this kind of concentrated eclecticism. Flux Outside is a wild pastiche of garage rock, dance rock and thought rock, but it never breaks down under the conflicting pull of so many styles. The band’s arrangements evoke the bitter cool of the Walkmen’s clean-cut squall. Their dance hooks stand up to the catchiest of their contemporaries. If any one strain stands out most, it’s progressive and math rock, which furnish the band’s extended, organic song structures and bold, electronic textures. It’s all wrapped up into a ferocious, snarling package with the balls-out attitude of the Black Keys and the self-conscious flair of Phoenix.
Flux Outside compares so well with the hippest, most seasoned acts in independent rock that one might imagine that Royal Bangs have been around for years. Actually, though, these guys are just getting started. This is only their third album, and their first on a label of any real size. Their 2008 debut, We Breed Champions, and their sophomore effort, Let It Beep, were both released on Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney’s label, Audio Eagle Records. Flux Outside is their first album to get any serious press, and it sounds like a bid for the big time. It’s their longest and most consistent yet, for one thing, and it also features new production credits from Sparklehorse’s Scott Minor and Flaming Lips producer Dave Fridmann. The band sounds a bit older, a bit more comfortable with their equipment. But they also sound fresh, as though the move to Glassnote Records, itself a modest indie label, was the break they’d been waiting for.
You can list the influences and sound-alikes all day, but the furious momentum of tracks like “Fireball”, “Silver Steps” and “Triccs” is a sign that Royal Bangs have something to say that’s entirely their own. Flux Outside is one of those oft-sought specimens in an genre dominated by fruitless homage and shoddy fusions: a whole greater than the sum of its parts.