I’m sure I’m not the first person to compare local newcomers Royal Teeth to Brooklyn-based experimental rock band Dirty Projectors, as each group’s unique sound is anchored by the acrobatic interaction of male and female voices.
But where Dave Longstreth of Dirty Projectors sets swirling vocal harmonies against stripped down instrumentation and nimble time signature changes, the interplay between Royal Teeth’s Gary Larson and Nora Patterson is wrapped in bright walls of synthy samples and fat bass lines (to say nothing of the fact that the earnest lyrics they are singing are not at all based on faint memories of Black Flag or Don Henley’s imagined exploits in 16th century Mexico).
Recorded in front of a small crowd of friends and families, Live Office Session faithfully captures the resulting brand of sleek electro-pop; and without the safety net (or trappings) of a modern recording studio, Royal Teeth’s first official EP also hints at the dynamism of the band’s energetic shows. Well-produced samples and tasteful instrumentation set the stage for complementary aural salvos that move higher and higher up the vocal register in a formula that works well on its own but is frequently augmented with unexpected and welcome flourishes. The spacey ambiance that begins both “Presents” and “Act Naturally” is held down by driving, Jerry Harrison-style guitar work, while “I Don’t Mind” marches along with the steady power of Josh Hefner’s live percussion.
But the true standout track on Live Office Session may be the band’s cover of The Knife’s 2003 single “Heartbeats”. The song has already been famously reworked by Swedish singer-songwriter José González, but his hollow, acoustic version dispenses with the haunting beauty of the original in favor of an unnecessarily severe indie-folk affectation. Royal Teeth’s take keeps the infectious downtempo beat while Patterson and Larson add a pleasant, decidedly non-Bjork-ish delivery of the sincere, emotive lyrics.
The sordid (at least from where I’m standing) history of this particular song and the excellent rendition found on Live Office Sessions does much to sum up Royal Teeth’s musical achievements so far: they have managed to inject a wholesome dose of personality into electronic-inspired tunes without losing the enveloping danceability that sythpop readily provides.