Album Review: Royal Headache – High

I’ve recounted this story about a million and one fucking times, but here goes again: I was too young when the first Royal Headache album came out. Far too young. I was 15 years old, and on a grunge kick – Foo Fighters, Silverchair, and Pearl Jam thrived on the “Rye-Rye’s 3$$entials’ Playlist. I had absolutely no clue that a whole world of actually decent music lay at my feet, broiling just a few suburbs away. Bands like Royal Headache, Circle Pit and The Nevada Strange were just a few examples of incredible acts that were re-inventing rock and roll sounds, and they existed within shouting distance. I was the luckiest man alive, and I didn’t even know it. By the time my conscience had been pricked by punk music, and the wealth of talent that existed in my backyard, the times had moved on, and these bands all appeared to have reached their critical apex, either breaking up or facing the problems of fame.

This was a double-edged sword – it made way for a whole legion of new bands, but I, along with a growing stream of 16-20 year olds that have begun to litter Blackwire and the Red Rattler, have been constantly badgered with the fact that we never got to see THE Royal Headache. They were a band from a lost time, who managed to surge past the knowing few and infect the mainstream with one of the most affecting albums of our time. It’s easy to stand by that statement and repeat it without a trace of hyperbole – their self titled debut is a masterpiece of soul, punk and rock ‘n’ roll, a pop album that sits eloquently but uneasily amongst the best. Whereas forgettable major label funded “indie” music dominated playlists for mere moments, the first time that I, and many others, heard Royal Headache, was a punch to the guts. Suicide sat alongside desperation in a romantic, hurtling fashion, and I’d never heard anything like it.

Which is why I approached the new Royal Headache record with slight trepidation. Don’t get me wrong – their Opera House show was a triumph, and similar notions have been relayed about their David Liebe Hart support. Furthermore, their singles “High” and “Another World” have been getting a thrashing on the aforementioned “Rye-Rye’s 3$$entials’ Playlist. But those are singles, and their ability to put on a show has rarely been regarded as anything less than incredible. An album is a different beast – from a personal standpoint, listening to the ‘High’ could have represented the death knell of my favourite band.

Lay your fears aside – ‘High’ is magnificent. It’s a sophomore album that solidifies everything you and I loved about this band, and rounds out Royal Headache’s distinct sound, stretching their abilities and our own expectations of what they’re capable of. Blood, guts and spunk pulse through this record with zeal, clenching and releasing, creating a tumultuous, exhausting and uplifting ride.

Just like the debut, there isn’t a song on here that feels out of place, or obligatory. There’s the ear-puncturing eye-gougers, such as the hurtling “Another World” and “Fantasy”, a reflection of a time when dreams had yet to be dashed, and “Garbage”, which allows Shogun to spew hatred over riffs of fuzzy bile and a plodding bass line, culminating in a song that slashes with the same crushed glass that it begins with. There’s the power-pop, anti-love blitz of “Love Her If I Tried” that takes a hurtfully self-examining look at unrequited romance, and the crooning stabs of “Wouldn’t You Know” provides a lump-in-your-throat respite from the surrounding cacophony of the rest of the album.

However, it’s “Carolina” that stands out on ‘High’ most – a classic rock song propelled into the modern century. Strummed guitars placated by gentle melodies, and a voice that sails over the top, retelling a story that’s got a pain in there that would turn even the most crooked, unfeeling human into a dough-eye sobber. It’s a song that reflects that rock bottom moment, when you’ve transitioned from fighting, a gnashing beast, to a crumpled rag, and the crowd’s reaction and pity to such a sight.

This is a new band with the same mission statement as the one they stamped all those years ago. Royal Headache have grown older, broken up, faced new problems. ‘High’ is the album that showcases that evolution; the songs are generally slower and tinged with more soul, as well as more outward looking. But have they lost what made them such a great band in the first place? The long answer is to listen to this record over and over again, marvelling at each track, and soaking up this band and their worth. The short answer is to look at the cover for ‘High’, a bold, grey shot of the Petersham Water Tower. After trips around the world, festival slots and all the press and media that can be feasibly thrown at a band, they’ve chosen that fucking water tower to adorn their new album….to me, that speaks volumes. To me, that means that Royal Headache are the same band I fell in love with. And in my opinion, the contents of ‘High’ proves that.

‘High’ comes out this Friday, August 26th. Pre-order through the band’s Bandcamp, or go to a record store. If you’re reading this in the US, do yourself a favour and go see this band – they’re touring the nation right now. Also, if you’d like to hear the record before it’s released, NPR is streaming it here.

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New: Royal Headache – High

When I was 15, Royal Headache released their debut album. I wouldn’t hear it until I was 17, but by that point, I’d heard all the stories. The insane gigs. Their skull-hollowing intensity. The brutal and complete dedication that each member put into recording and performance. The first time I heard that album, it made me want to meet this band. It wasn’t the first, or last time, I’ve had that reaction upon hearing a band upon the first time, but it was particularly strong with Royal Headache. They put everything I wanted into a song – crunchy melody, maelstrom ferocity, simple songwriting that made you want to scream with ecstasy and stab yourself in the brain. Real, pure, unadulterated emotion.

Then Royal Headache disappeared. At least from my line of sight. It wasn’t the end of the world – there were still plenty of bands to enjoy and feast upon, especially in Sydney. There wasn’t exactly a drought. But there was always that gap that I knew I wasn’t going to get to experience, the Royal Headache pub show that seemed to have single-handedly inspired so many bands and projects that I currently adored.

A few weeks ago, Royal Headache played the Opera House. It was great, one of the best shows I’ve been to, ever. And then, they release this fucking gem. A gem it is, through and through. It’s rare, beautiful, and should be worn proudly. It’s shiny, brilliantly so. There’s too much good stuff to say about it.

But the thing that touches me most is how it carries the Royal Headache legacy. Not in the sense that “OH GOOD, YOU CAN PLAY A SONG”, but moreover in the fact that I know that the 17 year old shitbag Ryan would be thrashing his head just as much as the current shitbag Ryan is. Sure, “High” is an old song, but the fact that Royal Headache nailed every aspect of it onto record is a testament that they haven’t lost any of the magic that got me, and so many others, interested in the first place. All the elements of the band we know and love are there – the soul, the pain, the ability to make you press repeat until your fingers are bleeding – and I don’t think anyone is surprised. Just ecstatic. Welcome the fuck back, Royal Headache.

Video: Parquet Courts-You’ve Got Me Wonderin’ Now

As inevitable failure in the form of the forthcoming English Paper 2 HSC exam creeps further forward in everyone’s mind, I combat your paranoia with the video for a song I’ve reviewed a fuck load before, and am still not tired of. Yep, the video for ‘You’ve Got Me Wonderin’ Now’ by Brooklyn stoner punks Parquet Courts is up and at ’em. Smart lyrics like ‘Seasicks better than heartsick baby’ come to life as a little red Pacman ghost dances along to them like a music video for a High School Musical song. In the background, some seriously weird shit in the form of a creative re-imagining of looking under a microscope in Year 8 goes on. Weird shit that’s weirder than purple poop-wouldn’t expect anything less from Parquet Courts.

Album Review: Parquet Courts-Tally All the Things That You Broke EP

If every Parquet Courts fan in the entire world met up in one place (let’s say…Arizona Desert? And call it something like….Burning Sasquatch?), and channelled the appropriate amount of excitement and adoration for this new EP that Parquet Courts just put out, there would be enough energy to power Europe for 21 days. Now, that might seem highly unlikely, illogical, and even impossible, but it’s a scientific fact that it would work. Just ask the dudes from MythBusters or something.

This new EP from Brooklyn-via-Texas band Parquet Courts (if you’ve been on this website before, you’ve probably heard the name) is a bonafide smash hit compromised of delectable tracks on par with ‘Paranoid Android’ and ‘Fire in Cairo’. In other news, what is hyperbole? Okay, so maybe I’m guilty of exaggeration and bias, but this EP is better than having a peanut butter and jam sandwich with Tupac.

It’s only a few tracks long, but ‘Tally All the Things That You Broke’ packs a punch, and surely the title holds over an element of foreshadowing after the first track is done. ‘You’ve Got Me Wonderin’ Now’ is fast and not very furious, but don’t take that to mean that you won’t go on a rampage of delight. There’s a little pan flute riff in there that makes you think both ‘What the fuck?’ and ‘Why isn’t that there pan flute in every song?’. The sweaty guitar breaks that occur twice in the song are also very fucking cool, like Jack Nicholson rapping Wu-Tang Clan levels of cool.

The EP moves onto ‘Descend (The Way)’, a shouty, underfed grimer, like that kid that you used to go to school with that always smelled like a dead body and ate rotting cheese for recess. After that dirty but delicious thing, there’s “The More It Works’, a song that wouldn’t sound out of place in an Ian McKaye set-list. The song’s only got se7en words in it, but it’s less Kevin Spacey decapitating your wife, and more ‘holy shit, let’s mosh until we decapitate ourselves’. As the guitar drips out, a slinky bass line kicks in for ‘Fall On Yr Face’ a narration driven track that shows off a more disturbed side to Parquet Courts than anything we’ve ever seen (Oh My!).

So far, the EP has been a happily haphazard affair, and super enjoyable. But shit’s about to get unreal with the announcement of ‘He’s Seeing Paths’. The obvious comparison would be Beck’s ‘Odelay’ what with the strangely addictive samples that collectively form a church of wacked out, smacked out noise. But ‘He’s Seeing Paths’ is too funky and cool for that. The sound pushes like it’s searching for something, and it keeps you hooked for a whole seven minutes, a very impressive feat for a band that’s made their name with hooky, verse driven two minute tracks. To divert into something that takes the funk of Stevie, and the throwback cool of Anton Newcombe, and to force them to make love over a cowbell riff…that takes balls. Best of all, it’s the standout track of the EP.

Overall, Parquet Courts have released a fucking awesome EP, a bunch of material that see’s the band gearing towards a freakier direction. Now that’s some shit that we can all get behind. A little weird, but still throwing out familiar bones for those of us that don’t want a 180-sound fiasco, this EP will  tide the fans over whilst we wait in mutual adoration for a sophomore record, and it will pick up a whole bunch of new fans. The punk may have dimmed a litte, but the freak-flag is still flying.

Parquet Courts will be playing Laneway festival in February, and are one of the top reasons to go (along with Cashmere Cat, Kurt Vile and Savages).

New: Parquet Courts-You’ve Got Me Wonderin’ Now

If you’ve been on here before, you’ll know that I adore Brooklyn Knights of stoned punk, Parquet Courts, more than I adore puppies that sell narcotics. They’ve released a furious riff-centric new track called ‘You’ve Got Me Wonderin’ Now’, and it rocks my socks off. If you ever wake up on a Monday morning, hungover as fuck, needle stuck in your arm, and your heart broken by a hooker the night before, this is the song to bring you out of your reverie. A pan flute, hand claps, a squealing guitar solo and a chugging pace, ‘You’ve Got Me Wonderin’ Now’ is the best thing to happen to music since ‘Stoned and Starving’ (also by Parquet Courts, schwag).

Album Review: Parquet Courts-Borrowed Time 7″

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Unfortunately, this isn’t going to be a massive Pulitzer Prize ode to music like I usually pull out of my ass. This is only a 7″, albeit a fucking fantastic one, but there’s only so many words one can use to describe material that lasts shorter than my wish to make a career out of taming house cats.

Parquet Courts are a fantastic band. Combining stoner punk with sweaty lyrics, the band is something that should be required listening for the Bong Squad. If you’re ever feeling like you need a pick-me-up, Parquet Courts will not only suffice, but go and buy you a coffee and talk to you about your problems. He may light a joint at some point, but at least he’s listening. Parquet Courts, fuck yeah, Parquet Courts.

Anyway, this is the band’s latest 7″, which features one of the best tracks off their debut ‘Borrowed Time’ and two unreleased tracks. You should feel so lucky. ‘Borrowed Time’ is a college-flunked, cigarette smoking jam that wanders around the school quad for hours at a time, just thinking, man. ‘Borrowed Time’ is the kind of stonerific punk statement you’ve been waiting your whole life for. Its just a damn good track, there’s no two ways about it. ‘Seems these days I’m captive in this borrowed time…’….you’ll be singing that shit ’til you kick the bucket.

On Side B, Parquet Courts get a chance to show off both sides to their music, bang bang, right after each other. Quick succession, no bullshit, just the way I like it. ‘Smart Aleck Kid’ is a paranoid and unrestrained punk jam, totally fucked up, whirling out of control with no idea where it’s going. It’s beautiful in it’s simplicity. Then, as soon as Descendants have been payed their respective dues, Parquet Courts take a turn shooting the shit with Archers of Loaf on ‘Free Ice’. Super 80’s independent rock jam it is (read that in a Yoda voice) baritone quaking in it’s boots and not all that confident either. Somewhere in the world, Stephen Malkmus is losing his shit over ‘Free Ice’.

So, if you’ve waited this long to get into Parquet Courts, like, what the fuck are you waiting for? Have you not heard ‘Stoned and Starving‘? Are you, like, the AntiChrist? Go and fucking buy ‘Light Up Gold’, right now. If you are like the rest of humanity (fucking conformist) and worship Parquet Courts, then the ‘Borrowed Time’ 7″ will only bolster your utmost faith in the band.