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I write in the first person because I want to personally admit that I have not had a chance to get into much new music recently. On a single hand I can list new 2015 albums that I have listened to since the first official day of summer. The Replacements, The Clash, The Beatles, Deerhunter, and freshly made playlists have dominated my drives, cooking, and Sunday mornings. After the year's incomparable first quarter, there hasn't been much that has inspired or resonated with me. I was looking for something that had a little bit of bite to it without all of the surface-level stuff like prettiness or catchiness. It was while I was trying to write about an impressive-but-kind-of-boring album that I found Royal Headache: an Australian punk rock quartet who released High, their second, and potentially final, full-length album. I had been trying to track down their 2011 debut, so opening up the download to this soulful, 10-song set was more than gratifying. At that moment, the lagging end days of summer 2015 turned completely-- all I needed was lead singer Shogun's powerful voice, and I was inspired.
Oddly enough, my summertime obsessions helped prepare me for High, as punk rock and soul are the blood of this album. High improves on just about everything these rockers were good at on their debut, mostly due to the cleaner production, and with their style more prominent and exposed, the sound is as fuzzy and tuneful as any indie release this year. First track "My Own Fantasy" is bold and sincere, condemning rock 'n' roll as a corrupt institution while Shogun's roaring, melodic vocal and the shimmering guitars keep up with the fast-paced rhythm section. It's hard not to grin and put a fist in the air when you know there are still nine songs exactly like the opener to come.
The album is inspiring because, according to sources, the band took two days to record the songs while Shogun took eight months to put down the vocals, and that dedication to sound on the singer's part elevates their sophomore effort to new highs (get it?). High has variety even though it comes in at a brief 28 minutes, and that brevity is a welcome respite from other, more pretentious albums out now. "Wouldn't You Know" is a pleasant surprise-- Shogun is a straight-up crooner rambling on about a lost love atop a rambling pop rock number. He elongates "know" and "love," which brings an achiness that is charming. The feedback-heavy "Garbage" recalls the crazy punk rock acts of the '70s with bass and guitar turned up to ear-bleeding levels and a vocal that feels like a perfect marriage between John Lydon and Rod Stewart. Beautiful stuff. Album highlight "Carolina" adds Replacements-style twang to the set as Shogun is close to bleeding through the affectations in his voice. He elongates almost every line of the chorus, which is mostly hidden behind feedback except for the word "heart," and I feel so much closer and intimate to this man's longing. Intentionally repeating myself, Shogun elevates these songs and crafts a mish-mash of genre any band would be proud of.
The chemistry found on High may be temporary-- the status of the band constantly changes-- but this mixture gives them a chance to showcase their different facets: from love songs masquerading as punk ala "Wouldn't You Know" to soulful rock ("Need You"), aching lyrics ("High"), and, of course, straight up punk rock ("Electric Shock"). There is not a false step on here, and though the music they make falls in and out of popularity often, I am so happy for music that makes me feel things, and having those feelings wrapped up in a savory indie rock concoction. Thanks for the intoxicating ride.