by Kaelen Bell
The barriers between indie-rock, pop and R&B have by this point all but disintegrated, and on their newest record, Royal Canoe have decided to fully embrace the hip-hop and R&B sounds that had previously only coloured their lurching alt-rock. It’s an evolution, not a reinvention, and the move towards a more obvious hip-hop palette feels like a natural and inevitable stop in the band’s journey rather than a complete overhaul of their sound.
The album is as busy as ever, with complex lattice-works of counter-rhythms, colorful synths, samples and processed guitar. Front person Matt Peters’ voice takes on richer tones as he ricochets within the arrangements, joined by a flurry of voices that include soulful backing chants and a guest spot from Nnamdi Ogbonnaya on the jittery funk of “Ashes, Ashes”. The inclusion of Ogbonnaya’s rap feels like the most obvious sign that this band has officially moved beyond the kaleidoscopic early-2010’s indie of their previous works, dabbling in something tied more to rap’s cadence and rhythm.
Many of these songs seem designed to be sampled and rapped over, and though they often feel slightly leaner and more hook-indebted than their previous outings, there’s still plenty of room for brief breakbeats and rhythmic asides.
As one of the few bands from a particular place and time that have managed to continually create gripping work, it’s fun to see Royal Canoe expand their sound while retaining what’s kept them apart from the pack for so long. However, it’s difficult to shake the feeling that Waver sounds like the logical conclusion to a certain sound and aesthetic – the endpoint of nearly 10 years as a band. They’ve gotten very good at what they do, but what they do may need to change more dramatically the next time around.