Double Play: Royal Headache & Caspian

Two reviews for the price of none!

Iann Robinsonby Iann Robinson


Royal Headache

Royal Headache

RIP Society/XVIII Records

The self-titled LP from Australian band Royal Headache is four months old.

I don’t give a shit because I’m pretty sure you’ve never heard of them and you should. I don’t mean in a minute, or an hour or later today, I mean get your record buying ass to the store or hit their website and get involved with this band right now.  What is Royal Headache? Well, that’s a tricky question.

The band brings about so many influences in what they do, so many tricks up their sleeve that the stew gets awfully thick. I can hear the Buzzcocks, Rites Of Spring, The Kinks, a bit of soul, a dash of old Talking Heads and even a light bruising of fifties do-wop. With so many influences happening you’d think Royal Headache would be just the sum of their parts. Instead this four piece transcends their influences and becomes something wholly and completely unique.

Royal Headacheis an album featuring twelve songs of gorgeous pop clocking in at an average of two minutes. I’ll admit, I came to the party late with this band, but that’s okay because the party is still kicking and the buffet kicks ass. What’s first in the buffet line? Let’s talk guitars, let’s talk super catchy hooks that come in the form of a jangly garage sound that would make the Count Five spin around and fly in the air. With all the jangly pop hooks, there’s not a dishonest note played on this album. Nothing here is pretense, it’s all being in the moment, it’s all emotion and feel.

Oh, I’m sorry, did you need bass in your buffet? Okay, because Royal Headache happens to have delicious bass stuffed to the rims.  In bands like this the easy route would be to thump simple bass lines under the guitars. There’s no harm in that, no foul or bad form. That kind of thing holds the song up; it gives an anchor for the structure of the tune. However Royal Headache’s bassist doesn’t see it that way. This guy’s bass walks around, forwards and backwards, up and down.

None of the bass lines sit still unless it’s to unleash on a faster more punk driven song. Even with all the funky walking around, the bass never overpowers the guitars. The two work in perfect harmony to make these songs painfully good. I mean that. Royal Headache is a record of such greatness it actually hurts me. Especially with the band being so damn young.

The rainbow pouring out of the buffet comes from the voice. I’m not really sure what to say about vocalist Shogun besides wow, or holy shit, or Jesus Christ fuck him for being so amazing. This is one of the most honest and powerful voices I’ve heard in rock in recent years. I can’t even put the voice into words. Sure he has a powerful high-pitched punk thing going on ala Howard Devoto from the Buzzcocks but there’s also soul going on in there. Like real deep Stax Records soul belting out from this skinny Australian kid. 

Every sound that comes out of his mouth is dripping with sincerity. He feels this and he wants you to feel it to. I love that his lyrics are about heartache and loneliness.  Lyrically he reminds me of David Gedge from The Wedding Present.  Straightforward, direct and honest words that strike home. It’s amazing to me how a band this young can write such universal songs. Most music within this genre is myopic and self-centered. Royal Headache is above that; they write songs that touch upon the ideas of life we all share.

Let’s talk songs shall we. I defy anyone to dislike the tune “Psychotic Episode” or “Really In Love”.  The song “Back And Forth” is a heartbreaking jam about the end of relationship. It moves quickly and contains that same Royal Headache catchiness but the vocals and words weaved within the music are more melancholy. The mix is very effective. The band also injects two very different instrumentals. The first “Two Kinds Of Love” brings to mind both Johnny Marr of The Smiths and Bernard Sumner of New Order. The second instrumental, “Wilson Street” comes off like an old surf tune. Really? They have two instrumental songs that are completely different and also amazing. I don’t know weather to cheer or cry.  There is not one bad song on this entire album, not one!!

Royal Headache begs the question, is punk going to be saved by coming full circle. The current crop of spikey haired and hipster looking bands being passed off as punk are nothing more than a fashion statement made with guitars. Could the future of this music really find itself in going way, way back? Not MC5 and Stooges back, but back to the Kinks, the Count Five and the Yardbirds? Royal Headache take an approach to their music that’s rooted in the past and then apply their own unique slant to it. I’m not often moved by new music, but Royal Headache and their self-titled album have captivated me. This is a truly important band, one that everybody should be talking about.





Live At Old South Church

The Mylene Sheath


On a completely different front is drone, ambient noise band Caspian.  Hailing from Boston, Caspian again wowed the drone crowd with their 2009 release “Tertia” and now they’ve returned with their first live album Live At Old South Church. Outside of the music, the live show and album have an interesting history. Recorded in October of 2010 the show itself was a benefit for Amirah, a non-profit organization in Boston dedicated to providing whole-person care for victims of human sexual trafficking. Continuing on that idea, $2 from every copy of Live At Old South Church will be donated to Amirah as well.

Now let’s talk music. This genre is an interesting one because of how many think it’s easy to execute. With all the bands out there trying to play drone or ambient or some kind of combination of the two, most just don’t get it. It’s not only about the drone or the spacey chunks of atonal guitar plucking. Being as formless as this music is, if you can’t build tension and structure songs with it, you’re just making noise. Caspian get it, they get it in spades. Live At Old South Church is a triumph of what the band do with their push-pull between textures and musical tensions. Caspian’s music is both cathartic and disturbing, emotional and technical.

Song wise, as with most good drone/ambient bands, the music demands to be heard as one long piece. You don’t search for the hit song on this or any other Caspian album. Just hit play and relax, let the musical movements lift you up and transport you to someplace better. What the band have built in their particular drone shed can only be describe as epic and beautiful. With the quietest strumming guitars and wisps of keys and sounds the journey begins. Caspian love to find a  note and stay on it, not beating it to death but exploring it. It’s all about textures with this band. Feeling every single thing you can in any given note before moving on to the next thing.

Each time they’re finished with one piece, the next builds on it. The quiet guitar notes will remain as the bigger volumes come in. The tiny dancing noises add fullness to the guitars as the band starts a faster, more dissonant attack. Caspian build each song to a fevered emotional pitch before allowing a release that makes the heart sing. The depth of emotion is undeniable with this album, which is particularly impressive being that Live At Old South Church is a fully live record. Some of the better drone/ambient bands just can’t step up live. This album proves that Caspian are not one of those bands.

I won’t lie; this isn’t an album for everyone. People who need a sense of familiar structure or those who can’t approach music on their on terms and need to led through everything won’t like this. I’m not saying that to be a dick, it’s just that some folks don’t do well with something outside the box. For others Live At Old South Church will be something to treasure, an album of textures and ideas, of musical integrity and experimentation that never loses the concept of music being an emotional medium. Live At Old South Church might also introduce those who don’t know Caspian to their work and that is really the gift that keeps on giving.