Royal Forest: Spillway (King Electric Record Co/Mollusc Records)

Impressive LP from Austin, Texas quartet, perfect for long summer afternoons

Released Jul 9th, 2013 via King Electric Record Company / By Ben Wood
Royal Forest: Spillway (King Electric Record Co/Mollusc Records) Royal Forest come from Austin, countercultural capital of Texas and home of the legendary SXSW festival. Spillway is an intriguing and accessible slab of melodic indie rock, packed with hooks but with enough intriguing production details to keep listeners on their toes.

The band have an unconventional attitude to recording dates, their keenness to incorporate unusual atmospheres having led them to record songs on a single-prop airplane, inside a World War Two submarine and during a lightning storm. So far, so quirky - but this would be nothing but a gimmick if the music didn't stand up on its own. Luckily, it does.

Cody Ground's starry-eyed vocals will appeal to fans of the Lips' Wayne Coyne and Wilco's Jeff Tweedy. Meanwhile, classic-sounding, ear-worm-y piano and guitar hooks are complemented by constantly shifting backgrounds. Percussive and rhythmic elements drop in and out, giving the impression of a band remixing itself.

The album kicks off with a killer one-two. Opener 'Everyone Who Knows You' features dreamy harmonies and grungily dubby bass a la Massive Attack circa Mezzanine; while the hookily acoustic 'John Denver' is a strumalong classic with a poet's eye for details ('black-eyed and drunk / you sleep in cars and drain their batteries...')

The lyrics are impressionistic and filled with arresting images throughout. The songs' narratives are not always obvious, but one recurring theme seems to be the desire to escape small-town life, and the lures and dangers of a life lived outside the law (the doomed subject of 'Goldwallpaper' ('Used to keep the wolves out with a chain-link fence...')

In most of these songs, people have made bad decisions - or are about to. However, elements as disparate as straight-ahead Motown drumming, gauzy shoegazey atmospherics and bubbling dubby bass make the album one sweet-sounding nightmare. This record is a producer's dream, with every song containing cherishable details such as the twinkling Eels-esque music-box and churchy organ of 'Castro'; and the epic finale of album closer 'Man-Made Lakes'.

But this is no kitchen-sink production job. There is some firm editing going on here: every song is tightly structured and, for all the wealth of ideas on offer, Spillway is a noodle-free zone. The result is impressively well-realised and cohesive: these slices of slow-moving, dreamily stoned melancholy come across like the masterful short stories of Raymond Carver as interpreted by peak-era Flaming Lips.

It's the perfect album for those long, humid summer afternoons. Dive in...