Blink and you could almost miss it – Royal Headache’s debut is short and sweet at roughly 26-minutes. But even a hearty eye-snap couldn’t keep those ears from catching the loud, fun, and furiously played two-minute bursts that encompass the eponymous album, released stateside this month after an earlier debut in the band’s down-under motherland.
Each song barely repeats itself, powering through emotional ooo-ing at top speed, choruses be damned. Singer Shogun’s soulful lilt is absolutely buried underneath an almost opaque fuzz that ends up sounding like a convoluted combination of an old soul 45 playing in your bedroom as your neighbor’s practicing punk band blasts in through your open window, nearly eliminating all other sounds. In a way, the vocal pushed to the back of the track is a bit upsetting. Though his words may be somewhat unintelligible, Shogun’s lovesick longing, part Otis Redding, part Joe Strummer, pulls you in, but it’s a frustrating fight to feel the full soul power, a little more strain than satisfaction.
But then again, that’s kind of the point. As much as they may sound like it at times, Aussie’s glorified migraine-inducers aren’t old soul sweethearts – they’ve got a tough upper lip and a freewheeling fury tied to their fluttering hearts; writhing, spitting, and scratching their way through songs so energetic, they couldn’t possibly last more than 150 seconds. Shogun’s old-school vocal sensibilities do something greater than mimic the past. They add sincerity, even when Shogun twists and turns a phrase for pure fun.
Some of my favorite songs come toward the end of the album, where Headache’s style starts to really gel (and/or my ears get used to the shock of one-shot songs). “Back and Forth” is the story of a great fight, two lovers circling each other with bared teeth in the street, though Shogun sighs and admits defeat rather than keep the cycle spinning. “As you start to bleed through your eyes, it becomes too cle-e-e-e-e-ear,” he sings, pulling the word out into a deadpan drone before pitching into the chorus’s exultant “oh yeah!” “Down the Lane” has an almost Kinks-like lighthearted play on seasonal changes, comparing a tree-lined street to a relationship with a neighborhood girl. A moment of instrumental clarity separates the drums and bass like oil and water in the intro to “Distant And Vague,” more of a fuzzed-out sock-hop slow jam.
Elsewhere on the record, Shogun takes a backseat cigarette break while the rest of Royal Headache bounce through instrumentals like “Two Kinds of Love” and “Wilson Street.” “Two Kinds of Love” is more of a break between songs than its own creation, but “Wilson Street” speaks in a slowed-down, beachy guitar that balances between surf and salsa – the very flavor of heated summer nights, wet and sloppy like a bad first kiss – but all the sweeter because of it.
Big-hearted and loose, Royal Headache’s debut has the best qualities of a literal flash in the pan – quick, golden, and promising. This may not be a perfect record, but it’s likely the sign of greater riches to come.