- The Royal Noise
In some ways The Royal Noise’s sophomore effort Unbreakable picks up where their 2012 debut Keep On Moving left off: groove, groove, and more groove – with a side order of groove and a frothy mug of groove to wash it down with. Guitarist Johan Harvey and sax/keyboard wizard Mike LaBombard are masters of quickly erecting melodic base camps before turning their songs into sonic explorations – but even their wildest of adventures remains in radio contact with the triple-barreled rhythm machine of bassist Darius Shepherd, drummer Jonathan Proffitt, and percussionist Duane Borba. The result is disguised as a democracy – the 11 cuts on Unbreakable showcase the band rather than spotlight any one player – but, truth be known, it’s actually a kingdom where all bow to the beat.
For example, dig the classic funk guitar and B-3 sound that dominates the straight stretches of “Adirondack Tea” – before the tune fishtails into the sharp hairpins and doublebacks where the sax and bass join forces (shadowed by Harvey’s guitar). On one hand the changes are abrupt; on the other, it’s the kind of stuff that The Royal Noise excels at – and, most importantly, the groove reigns supreme throughout it all.
If you’ve ever felt like running for cover during the drum rage of Gov’t Mule’s “Thorazine Shuffle”, then you have a sense of the raw power of “Foster’s Flop”: it’s all stop-and-go fun and games until about the 2:45 mark when the drums and bass put their heads down and dig in. Harvey adds wallop to the beat while LaBombard plays the living guts out of his sax with spiraling lines and mad wails; for the next couple of minutes, it doesn’t seem as if there’s any possible escape except group implosion, yet the quintet manages to bring the beast in eventually for a gentle landing – steamy and sweat-soaked, but safe.
“Fields Of Green” starts off with the softness of a Sunday morning before evolving backwards into the heart of a funky/cool Saturday night (listen to Borba’s hand drumming); Harvey’s guitar provides celestial navigation for “Orbital”; “Bop Devil” is truly a matter of worlds colliding in the nicest of ways – cool-daddy horn rubbing up against a wide-hipped bass line; there’s a whole movie tucked into the angular funkiness of “Jumbled Towers”; and “Unbreakable” tests its elasticity with a morph from joyous romp to greasy hip-grind to full-fledged freakout … breaking clear for one last dance in the sunshine.
That ability to effortlessly pull off serious sonic shape-shifting is just exactly what The Royal Noise appeared to have been blessed with at birth – as documented on Keep On Moving. Unbreakable finds the band even tighter, more eclectic (it’s true), and completely in control of the powerful sound they generate.
The bottom line: believe it or not, they just keep getting better.
Brian Robbins enjoys a frothy mug of funky groove over at www.brian-robbins.com.