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Little Heart's Ease

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Album Review

On Little Heart's Ease, their third album and first for Rough Trade, Royal City continues in the direction of Alone at the Microphone but opts for a fuller, cleaner, more polished sound. At times, more polished means too polished: occasionally, Aaron Riches' vocals sound a little airless, and the album doesn't feature as much unique instrumentation as Alone at the Microphone did. However, Little Heart's Ease does deliver more of the dark but oddly jaunty songwriting that made Royal City's previous album noteworthy: Riches can still deliver lyrics like "let my tongue rot in my mouth" as sweetly as a lullaby. But Riches' words are darker than his music — although the comparisons to Smog, Damien Jurado, and Will Oldham's many incarnations aren't inaccurate (Oldham fans will particularly like the epic "Enemy"), Royal City crafts a lighter, somewhat sweeter kind of indie-country-rock gloom. And, with Little Heart's Ease's cleaner, fuller sound, Riches and company end up sounding less like their contemporaries and more like Neil Young, Gram Parsons, Sweetheart of the Rodeo-era Byrds, and the other artists who inspired alt-country in the first place. This classicist sound reaches its peak on the engaging "Can't You," which recalls Dylan right down to its climactic swell of harmonicas. As good as the band is at revitalizing the past, Royal City is at its best when it sounds distinctly modern; the spare percussion and wiry guitars of "Count the Days" crackle with a quiet energy, and the dreamy, droning "O Beauty" sounds similarly fresh. Interestingly, the strongest moments on Little Heart's Ease tend to be the subtlest; songs such as "Ain't That the Way" arrive with little fanfare, but they definitely make an impact. Alone at the Microphone might still be Royal City's most immediate work, but the striking restraint of the best moments on Little Heart's Ease is no less captivating.


Formed: 1999 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '90s, '00s

The Toronto-based Royal City was led by singer/songwriter Aaron Riches, who worked alongside Jim Guthrie, Nathan Lawr, Simon Osborne, and Evan Gordon to create an intense and personal brand of rustic indie rock. Royal City's sound was most easily lumped in with the Palace and Songs: Ohia family of keening, country-influenced loners with guitars. The group first unveiled their fragile, acoustic-based music with At Rush Hour the Cars, their 2000 release on the Toronto-based label Three Gut. Gordon...
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Little Heart's Ease, Royal City
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