Royce Wood Junior unleashes an unusual and heady mix of styles and talent on debut The Ashen Tang.
Royce Wood Junior begins his debut album, The Ashen Tang, sounding like a sexy robot (“Remembrance (Pt. I)”) and then flits wonderfully into ‘80s Prince (“Midnight”). Then things start getting even more unusual with the complex jazz tones of “Jodie”, which apparently features “Michael McWoonald”. Admittedly some of the singing after the electro break does sounds like a skewed Michael McDonald, but the overall effect is more like an urban Bon Iver enjoying the effects of a lost night out on the town.
This unusual and heady mix of styles and talent is an eccentric pleasure, with an underlying sense of humor and sensitivity. “Clanky Love” is pure old-school soul with a fierce rock guitar break, AND “Honeydripper” is a slow funk, with the irony that it’s “only unobtainable love I can’t do without.” Each track takes a different sonic stance, and there’s a charmingly chaotic blend of curiosity, fun and trauma. “Stand” is ambitious in its grand orchestration, with Wood’s velvety voice soaring though a cluster of strings. “Bees” then comes across all Stevie Wonder, and has a phenomenal closing section and “Nuther Bruther” has an extraordinary arrangement of piano and tuba mixed-up with occasional discordant slumping chords and phat beats.
As an overall proposition, The Ashen Tang rivals some of Terence Trent D’Arby’s later albums in unconventionality, but unfortunately a few of D'Arby's more difficult records ended up in the bargain bins. However TTD did start out in the mainstream with a commercial best seller, so perhaps RWJ will have more luck with early, bold experimentation. “Midas Palm” floats around ethereally. “Twiggin’”, and its medication that can’t be kept down, is modern and spacey, probably best appreciated through headphones. And in fact this is probably the type of record which may be viewed as a bedroom classic in the future -- intense and ground-breaking, you can imagine what is termed as "the youth" flipping out when hearing this on their MP3 players for the first time. “Remembrance (Pt. II)” is full of crackly electronica, and although the chorally drenched “Stickin’” suggests out-loud that there are “no surprises here,” this album is full of them. Stubbornly full-on, this is certainly a remarkable debut.