Royal Atlas – ‘I Am Iron Horse’

‘Psych Rock’ can become caricature in the wrong hands, usually when a band or artist starts with the end in mind. It doesn’t work that way. If it’s pre-meditated, the results sound like the score to a Homer Simpson drug trip or an Austin Powers interlude. So it’s encouraging to see an artist from Cambridge who isn’t misusing the term, understanding that the means don’t justify the ends and is unafraid to just begin the begin and leave the camera running.

Starting with guitars and percussive instruments that blur to sound like a marimba tuned in some fiery pit, ‘Bought On’ bounces jerkily on an insistent single chord and some bluesy exhortation, needing little else. ‘Fed Up And Wasting Time’ sounds like a garage rock song played through a transistor radio in an echo chamber and features some crazy whistle instrument playing the lead refrain.


The songs display a fondness for wringing the vocals through a filter of effects but this is executed in a lo-tech way, audibly through necessity than by careful study. And I guess that’s the key ingredient in the success of these records - they sound spontaneous. You can hear the circumstances and the feelings that occurred at the point of recording rather than deliberation.

This approach is also evident in the lyrics which are cryptic but not impenetrable, in a way that reminds of Royal Trux - they’re not trying to tell you anything, instead you’re dragged into the story halfway through and it’s up to you to decipher what’s going on. Try the simple refrain on the bonkers ‘Poppy Fields’ for instance - “Fluttering and parlaysed/ The method is franchises/ Fill your mind inevitable/ With poppy fields inedible” – searching for meaning is kind of missing the point.

This is real psych rock, written and recorded in the moment as it should be and pandering to no pre-conceived rules of genre. I wonder what and when the next recording will be, judging by these efforts so far, it will arrive without warning and it will be there for those willing to discover.