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Album Review

After crashing the garage punk scene with a brilliant debut album that sounded like a lo-fi Undertones backing a barely audible-for-all-the-noise Otis Redding, Royal Headache return with a second album that does a little bit of cleaning up, but sacrifices none of their ragged, rough soul. On High, the sound takes a small leap into the mid-fi range, with the guitars sounding fuller and tighter, the rhythm section delivering a heavier punch, and some subtle keyboards added to the mix. Most importantly, vocalist Shogun is no longer buried in the mix. This time his nakedly honest, torn-from-his-throat vocal is out front where it belongs. Most of the time he shouts, cajoles, and pleads like the best soul singers of the '60s, but he never oversings, either. Occasionally he even scales back and croons a little, like on the heartbreaking ballad "Wouldn't You Know," which works to give the album some variety. The songs on the album are just as good as on the debut, maybe a little catchier overall. Certainly just as tough and mean, with just as much tenderhearted pain pulsing underneath the swagger. For every scorching, laceratingly mean rocker like "Garbage," there's an aching love song like "Little Star." For every pulse-pounding Stax-on-speed cut like "Need You," there's a loping, good-natured song like "High" to balance things out. There's even a song so hooky and immediate, "Love Her If I Tried," that it would be a hit single in an alternate world where bands like this have hit singles. Where Royal Headache blasted by in a rush of furious noise and thrilling clatter, this album has just the right amount of restraint to help it sink in a little more, to cut a little deeper. There were certainly no songs on that album that sounded like an outtake from Izzy Stradlin's solo work. "Carolina," with its layered acoustic and electric guitars and easy riding backbeat, kind of does, but that's not a bad thing. Maybe it's more like a Reigning Sound song, but either way it shows that Royal Headache are spreading out a bit, and doing it in the same fervently exciting way they did before. It makes for a great second album, one that holds tight to all the things that made the first one so satisfying, while adding some new wrinkles that only serve to improve things. Try as you might, you're not likely to find too many albums in 2015 that rock as hard or bleed as much as High.

Biography

Formed: 2008 in Sydney, Australia

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '00s, '10s

Royal Headache rose out of the bleak underground punk scene of Western Sydney, Australia in 2008. In part as a response to the gloomy post-punk bands happening at the time of its founding, the group infused its garage punk core with a hearty dose of '60s-inspired AM radio soul-pop. Going by foreshortened nicknames, the band consisted of Shogun on vocals, Joe on bass, Shortty on drums, and Law on guitar. The quartet quickly made a name for itself on the strength of a self-produced 7" and began playing...
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Top Albums and Songs by Royal Headache

High, Royal Headache
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