A clever, confident amalgam of '60s psych and '70s pop, Robbers on High Street have delivered one of the year's most unexpected surprises.
If you're looking for proof that sometimes a band just needs time to find its true identity -- and time and patience being in short supply in today's instant gratification, buzzblog music culture -- allow me to present Robbers on High Street's third album, Hey There Golden Hair. When most of the world last checked in with ROHS, way back in 2005, the band was riding the success of their debut single, "Japanese Girls", an enjoyable, if undistinguished, slab of mid-oughts indie, notable chiefly for its impression of a poor man's Spoon. 2007 saw the band team up with composer Daniele Luppi for Grand Animals, an album that hinted at greater sonic ambition, but still nothing that would've led the world to believe the Robbers would be more than a workmanlike, mid-tier indie fivesome.
That pretty much gets you caught up, and now I can tell you that the Robbers on High Street have spent the last four (!) years getting their house in order (a new label, a steady line-up), recognizing their strengths (late '60s and '70s AM pop and British garage/psych), and now, with Hey There Golden Hair, delivering an unlikely gem of a record nearly a decade into their career.
While the band will never entirely shake the Spoon references -- frontman Ben Trokan's uncanny vocal similarity to Britt Daniel ensures that -- Robbers on High Street are now full-fledged, confident purveyors of swooning pop and psychedelia. Starting with the swooning opener, "Hollow Hill", ROHS prove themselves to be the pop craftsmen no one ever considered them to be... and they address those detractors, too, on both the jaunty, straight-outta-'71 comeback of "Second Chance" and the bright-horns-as-middle-fingers triumph of "The Unbelievers" ("Why you gotta waste your time?"). Elsewhere, the band dives into gentle, lush psychedelia ("Crystal Run" and "Electric Eye", both of which get a bump from the Daptone horn section), cocktail hour strings on "Happy Horses Always", mariachi on "Face In The Fog" and even a little spy-movie noir on the sinister, throbbing "All Wires Are Crossed". Really, the lone misstep is the stripped-down, urgent "Monkey", which doesn't fit the album's largely joyous, kitchen-sink pop vibe. And while you can't always tell what Trokan is going on about ("Supernatural Shivers", eh?) the band is clearly having a blast, no longer worried about keeping up with the indie-rock Joneses. Here's to taking the time to find and follow one's muse. In today's chew-'em-up-and-spit-'em-out music cycle, Hey There Golden Hair is a minor triumph.