Roy – Big City Sin and Small Town Redemption

5 out of 5

Label: Fueled By Ramen

Produced by: Matt Bayles

I know, I did it too: I saw a group made from guys from Botch, These Arms Are Snakes, Harkonen, produced by Matt Bayles… and I made an assumption.  Sure, it was on Fueled By Ramen, but lookit the pedigree: certainly this is gonna’ be some hardcore shnizz.  So I put it on, and I balked.  Roy is a rock band.  Roy is a rock band with some light folk influences, but a rock band first and foremost, without clearly sung vocals and strummed riffs and no double bass-drum.

I recovered.  Okay, fine, I made an assumption, but I’ll still give it a chance.  That first song is pretty good.  The first song is actually really good, and unfortunately makes the album seemingly suffer from first-song-itis, where nothing thereafter seems to have the immediate catchiness of that opening track.  So, y’know, I listened.  I didn’t come back to it.  And, uh, I sold it.  It happens.

Years later, my music obsessions lead me to reading about the band again, and I decide to give it another shot.  Ah, the years have treated my ears well.  Yes, it’s still an amazing first track, and it’s true that the following few don’t hit you with the same immediacy, but that’s just sequencing: those songs are still gold, still open up to plenty of depth, and pave the way toward several more instantly catchy tracks further into the album.  With Roy, you can sense that these hardcore kids just wanted to write a regular record, but a real one.  Brian Cook sings with honesty and the playing is sharp all around.  Matt Bayles – surprisingly good at capturing this clean rock pop – not skimping on his production work to add some heft and smooth out the disc’s flow from track to track.  The lyrics are a pretty poignant blend of travelogue and contemplative story-telling, but instead of Cook taking the standard tack of complaining about life on the road in a band, ‘Big City’ is a celebration of that world, even while criticizing some aspects.  ‘Something That’s Real’ might be telling the scene to lighten up, but admitting they’ll still be there to play their songs regardless; ‘The Power, Not the Perception’ admits that the life might not make him rich, but it’s satisfying; and closer ‘Calimucho,’ the most laid back track on the album, is fittingly a post-show behind-the-curtain tale, relaxing and moving on.  Between and within those stories we get musings on music (‘Don’t Overdub My Heart’) and life (‘They Cut the Cord’), all well and fully written, without easy tossed-off rhymes.  This goes for the music as well, which takes its comfortable guitar jangle and pairs it with active bass lines and energetic drumming but never settles for simple verse/chorus/verse, putting the group’s math-core training to different use.

So ‘Big City Sin’ is a great rock record.  Set aside whatever “so and so played with this band” ideas you have and just listen to the disc.  You’ll hear Built to Spill, you’ll hear Cracker, you’ll hear Superdrag, and you’ll hear a group that achieved it’s own sound and crafted a legitimately excellent album.

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