Royal Blood – Typhoons
Royal Blood are the musical equivalent of resting bitch face. On the surface, the Brighton-formed duo seem like a moody meat-and-potatoes rock outfit, carving out infectious riffs like Radio 1 robots. Frontman Mike Kerr’s pouty, sullen vocal delivery and their “we’re a serious band” press shots have only added to the sense that they were basically playing the role of rock stars.
Maybe we had them all wrong, though. After years of flirting with a White Stripes-like formula – keening vocals, snakey basslines – they’ve come up with album number three, Typhoons. It hits you like a smack of cold air, lifting you off your feet and planting you firmly on the dance floor.
There were flashes of Daft Punk’s electronic flair on Royal Blood’s 2017 album, How Did We Get So Dark?, but that was buried by flailing drums and murky production. On Typhoons, the grinding hook of “Mad Visions” is a direct throwback to “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger”, with an outstanding build and an even better drop. The disco influences on Typhoons reveal a band who – despite their surly image – know how to have fun.
Written as Kerr went sober, Typhoons jitters with paranoia as he reflects on a darker period in his life. Parasites lurk on the teeth-gnashing title track; synths twinkling like artificial glitter provide something of a metaphor for the cheap, chemical highs Kerr sings of. Fame gets the blame on “Who Needs Friends”, with him sneering: “I got cheapskates on my right, vultures up ahead/ And when I turn my back, they snatch up what is left.”
Abandoning the more cliché aspects of a rock’n’roll lifestyle hasn’t dented the ferocity of Royal Blood’s sound. If anything, they seem more determined to prove themselves. The riffs are better, arrangements more textured, harmonies more interesting (there’s a great contribution from some female backing singers on “Oblivion”). Then there’s the surprising closer “All We Have is Now”, a poignant moment of calm after the storm. Royal Blood have finally found their own voice.
Julia Stone – Sixty Summers
It was a friend who shocked Julia Stone out of her complacency. “[They] pointed out that we probably only have 60 summers left to enjoy,” she told The Independent in a new interview. Formerly known for languid folk songs written and performed with her brother Angus, the Australian artist sounds like a brand new person, ready to make up for those years she played it safe.
Produced by Thomas Bartlett and Annie Clark (St Vincent), Sixty Summers is a celebration of newly claimed liberty. Songs such as 2010’s “Big Jet Plane” had her singing in a sweet but often passive falsetto; now she revels in the freedom to explore new territory. Over the cool The xx-style synths of “Substance”, she’s restless but assertive: “You’re giving me nothing/ It’s f***ing me up.” On “Who”, she darts across a pulsating techno beat. “Dance” is all swooning, Lana Del Rey breathiness.
Inviting Matt Berninger to duet on the third track, “We All Have”, feels like a peculiar choice. The National frontman’s lugubrious baritone is at odds with the rest of the album’s sunnier disposition. Perhaps it’s deliberate, though. Any remaining gloom is left behind as Stone jaunts through clatters of percussion and jubilant pumps of brass. You’re never quite sure where she’s going. But that’s all part of the fun.
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