Knowing a song was recorded in a WWII submarine (or onboard a single-prop airplane, or among lightning-strewn sand dunes) will have zero effect on your enjoyment of said song. But that knowledge does offer a glimpse into a band’s creative headspace. Spillway, Royal Forest’s fourth studio album, is an album of sounds, full of psychedelic loops and expansive effects. Did they really need to hijack a submarine to get that perfect kick-drum sound? Probably not. But that wide-eyed pursuit of sonic perfection is admirable: If Spillway is anything, it’s a first-rate headphones album.
But stripped of their ornate padding, these songs are deceptively simple and strikingly hummable. “John Denver” is the perfect example: It’s a sweetly loping hum of acoustic strums and vocal harmonies—but the buzzing, arpeggiated synths push the track into deep-space. “On the Sun” follows a similar cue, layering lush keyboard orchestrations with a gently cascading melody over a one-chordal drone. (Is it kraut-rock? Is it Americana? Somehow it’s both.) The sleepiest tracks (the drifting piano balladry of “Broken Bow”) are emotionally distant—still it’s hard to avoid the sheer loveliness of the arrangements.
Blending the experimental with the immediate, the synthetic with the organic, Spillway pushes the same pleasure buttons as Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and The Soft Bulletin. And while Royal Forest haven’t delivered a masterstroke along those same lines, the most striking moments here suggest they very well might soon enough.