Royal Canoe lives on the edge of too much
Considering they’ve just given birth to one of the most admirably out-there albums of 2016, it’s funny that the members of Winnipeg’s Royal Canoe thought they were keeping things simple while writing Something Got Lost Between Here and the Orbit.
“I feel like we’re always running the risk of people going ‘What is this?’ I think that maybe because there’s six people in the band, we’re constantly at the edge of too much,” singer-guitarist Matt Peters says on the line from a Los Angeles tour stop. “But the weird thing about this one is that we thought that we’d made a pop record. But then everyone started telling us ‘Wow, this album is really bold and daring and you guys have taken a lot of risks.’ It’s funny how people see things. What you think is pop and accessible, other people have a completely different opinion of.”
It’s not like Royal Canoe—past alternative-album-of-the-year Juno nominees for 2013’s Today We’re Believers—worked on Something Got Lost in a vacuum. Providing guidance was producer Ben H. Allen, whose work with artists as varied as Gnarls Barkley, Deerhunter, and M.I.A. made him perhaps extra open to the idea that no sonic detour was too strange. And indeed nothing is too fantastical on the album’s 12 songs, which start with “Somersault” dressing up classic Queens hip-hop with jazzy flute, pornosonic keyboards, and ghost-of-Prince vocals. Soft funk meshes with’90s-vintage electronica on “Living a Lie”, while “I Am Collapsing So Slowly” begins as Band-brand Americana jam and then messes up everything with trap-powered percussion.
For all its wide-ranging adventurousness, Something Got Lost Between Here and the Orbit sticks to a relevant-to-our-times narrative, the album inspired largely by massive changes in the way that we communicate. Hands up if you now keep up with old friends via Facebook rather than coffee every couple of months or if you can’t go 12.3 seconds without checking Twitter or posting to Instagram.
We’ve all been out for dinner with people who’ve sat there texting friends, to the point where you wonder why they even showed up. Still, don’t think that Something Got Lost Between Here and the Orbit is about nothing but being distracted by the interweb, the songs touching on everything from ruined relationships to hipsters who do their drinking at Legion halls. Binding these threads together is the idea that, thanks to iPhones and satellite technology, we’re never out of touch with those we know and love, even as we remain hopelessly separated.
“You write what you know,” Peters says. “With us being away on tour so much, feeling that sense of disconnection from our community is inevitable. But I don’t think that it’s all negative. It’s also about feeling that there’s more out there. Even though you might feel a sense of separation, you know that there’s always an opportunity to connect. And at the same time it’s also a bit of a lamentation that you’ve lost yourself somewhere. You’re never really that far from anybody. But in the actual type of contact that you have, you couldn’t be further from them.”
That might explain lines like “It’s a midweek morning, I’m a tangled up wire/I could get to my feet, but I’ll lay here instead/What’s your body been doing since you left it for dead?”, that coming in “BB Gun”, a beautiful bit of Sominex-ed slacker pop that ends with an outro of floating-in-space horns.
“It’s almost like ‘What sort of curated version of myself do I want to present?’ ” Peters offers. “People end up forcing the best parts of themselves on you. But without knowing it, they’re also exposing their worst parts.”
Royal Canoe plays the Imperial Vancouver on Friday (September 30).