The world is better with Royal Trux’s chaos in it.
As of this writing, Royal Trux have not broken up yet. For most bands, especially reunited bands that are making new music and going on tour, this should be a given, but Royal Trux, a band that long existed as the spirit of harsh chaos, are not most bands. The adversarial relationship between the duo – Jennifer Herrema and Neil Michael Hagerty – is part of what allegedly broke up the band in the first place, and it still exists today; they’ve had their tour postponed due to Herrema’s legal troubles, and even appeared to break up mid-interview recently, with guitarist/singer Hagerty sending tweets saying things like “i’ve been on the fence about finishing my commitments, that’s the way i think,” and referring to the whole thing as “a debtors’ prison situation.” That the band’s 2015 reunion began as an argument between Hagerty and Herrema over Hagerty playing shows as “Royal Trux 1988” to perform material from the brilliant-but-unlistenable Twin Infinitives with a fake version of Herrema should tell you all you need to know.
Since Royal Trux aren’t most bands, the questionable blood between the two isn’t so much a cause for concern as it is an integral part of the engine that their machine runs on. As such, their first reunion album, White Stuff (yes, that white stuff, as the album’s cover suggests), picks up exactly where they left off: it’s a fascinating blast, filled with scuzzy indie rock, spacy synth noodling, and Herrema and Hagerty’s crackling voices. “This is the way it’s supposed to be,” they declare on the title track, which feels as much like a mission statement as anything else. And, in case you needed even more reason to question their stability, the album was recorded via emailed tracks, which still wasn’t enough for Hagerty to not bail before the album was finished. If you liked the direction the band were headed in when they recorded their last proper studio album, Pound for Pound you’re going to love the warped classic rock vibes of White Stuff, sounding like every Royal Trux album, while not sounding like one in particular.
Royal Trux have always been known for their restless spirit, and though they play it somewhat safe here, never truly pushing their own sonic envelope, White Stuff still leaves lots of room for brightly-colored weirdness. The Kool Keith-featuring “Get Used to This” is the most perplexing song of the bunch: it’s an awesome song, with Royal Trux’s sound filtered through a sunny electro-pop filter, but it feels like an outlier on the record. It’s messy, but it’s Royal Trux at their most infectious. That it exists comfortably next to songs like the Pavement by way of Chocolate & Cheese-era Ween jam “Suburban Junky Lady” as well as catchy, densely-layered “Purple Audacity #2” is part of the album’s charm, turning legendary sloppiness into songs that sound like solid gold hits.
With Royal Trux, though, it’s hard to draw the line on messiness. In the hands of another band, “Every Day Swan” would be discredited for being a lumbering mass of noise and nonsense lyrics, while the sludgy “Purple Audacity #1” a drugged-out demo that somehow made it on the album. But this is the band that made a name for themselves making songs far more impenetrable than even the most discordant moments of White Stuff, which means those new to the band might need to readjust their expectations and give it a few listens before they get used to their idiosyncrasies. The warped, quasi-blues rock “Sic Em Slow” and the ruthlessly catchy “Whopper Dave” are both terrible songs and fantastic songs all at once, the latter falling into the camps of both “infectious” and “irritatingly repetitive,” but someone willing to dive in open-hearted will walk away singing “WHOPPAH DAAAAAAAAAAAAVE!” under their breath for a week straight.
These facts make you ask yourself, “Is White Stuff actually a ‘good’ album?” If you’re able to devote yourself to the pursuit of the most slacker of slacker indie rock and abandon your notions about what it should sound like, you’re going to love this album. It certainly isn’t for everybody, and even the best riffs have equally infuriating moments of no-wave chaos that make you wish Herrema and Hagerty would just make a normal fucking song already. But this is the way it’s supposed to be for Royal Trux, and no matter how much longer their reunion survives, the world is better with their chaos in it.