Review Summary: Dream interpretationRoyal Coda
, sunken into the shadows of troubled nights, is a tragic dreamer. I say that for two reasons: firstly, that it is capable of mourning and reminiscing beautifully; secondly, that its aspirations to evoke the subconscious occasionally exceed its abilities. Compared to their peers, Royal Coda exercise more restraint: they avoid the mind-boggling chaos of A Lot Like Birds, the more dramatic flourishes of Sianvar. The heartache on Royal Coda
is half-numbed, not always felt in lucidity.
With a pedigree founded on technicality, it’s fascinating to observe how Royal Coda rely so heavily on certain production choices to carry across the emotivity of Royal Coda
. Joseph Arrington’s drumming, always malleable and nimble-footed, feels as if it’s riding on emotional turbulence, being dictated by the disorienting swirls of Sergio Medina’s guitarwork and Kurt Travis’ impassioned croons. What binds everything together is a subtle preference for the subdued: the guitar tones are slightly muted; reverberation smoothes their edges, adds the sensation of cool liquid, lets Kurt’s vocals layer and drift upwards. Synthesizers illuminate the background like blue candlelight in a dim room.
What, then, is the emotional intrigue of Royal Coda
? As demonstrated by Kurt’s intensity and conviction, which both match the bluntness of his lyrics, it would be straight-forward heartbreak. But clearly the album aims for more. “Love Again” adds the most variety to the message: it’s a dreamy slow waltz into doom, ever so slightly indulgent in the way that Kurt’s notes are drawn out, that heavy distortion is applied to the bridge. It’s also the most sensual moment on an album defined mostly by its pain. Specifically, this is pain presented with some dignity, cushioned from the maudlin by the sense of distance and ambiguity provided by the atmosphere. This distancing might be a double-edged sword: either the album is nuanced and appropriately composed, or it lacks sufficient emotional punch. I favour the first stance because Royal Coda
: even if restraint, and not nuance, was the only thing preventing it from over-indulging in suffering, there’s still much room for that suffering, in the process of being interpreted by the listener, to come across as multi-dimensional.
“De Rien” and “Suffolk”, then, are the true marks of over-indulgence by Royal Coda -- they’re ambient, somewhat groundless pieces on an album that is in no need of further ambience or vagueness. “Suffolk” might have been an overzealous attempt to experiment, to push the idea of “Royal Coda” as an album transcending swancore or post-hardcore; it’s a repetitive loop of Kurt humming over a simple piano motif, feedback encroaching over the last half of the song. Ideally, we’re supposed to believe that “Suffolk” is a distillation of the album’s atmosphere whose appeal will have been established by every other song promoting the same vibe, if only on a subliminal level. However, trying to establish this sort of hypnosis is jarring when Royal Coda
is not, at its core, a hypnotic album -- dreamlike, yes, but its fundamental character is still restless, sprinting on the edges of consciousness.
I suppose what really matters is that Royal Coda
leaves space for interpretation: emotionally, it’s plausibly complex (and instrumentally, it’s undeniably so). From the cool notes pooling alongside Kurt’s gentle singing on “Blood Thinner”, to the gorgeous ascension at the end of “Love Again”’s chorus, there’s an immediate tug at the heart-strings. Whether Royal Coda
’s beauty is more than skin-deep is something I can’t answer, but the response may also not matter.