Audio Mixer: David Kuwabara.
If the Royal Royal's bio is to be believed, the two brothers that make up this group -- Gabriel and Nathan Finochio -- spent many of their formative years in relative seclusion, living in rural Ontario and working in their father's church. If that is the case, the Finochios were obviously not completely oblivious to what was going on in the musical universe during that time. Their debut full-length features a wealth of modern pop trappings (pixilating drum machines, Cut Copy-style disco beats, wowing modular synths), but what that pseudo-isolation has apparently afforded them is time to pick apart the music that affected them, figuring out what worked and applying it to their own worship-based songwriting. Those efforts have obviously paid off, as The Royalty is one of the more surprising releases of 2012, and definitely one of the best CCM records of the past five years. That said, the album does have its failings. About three-quarters of the way through, the brothers Finochio fall back on the creaky emotional resonances that can be found in some of Coldplay's lesser efforts. But they quickly right the ship, closing the album with a trio of songs that take some delightfully unexpected turns: "Draw Near" has the dry, understated sound of Paul McCartney's early solo efforts, and "October" has a (gasp) sexy pulse akin to -- of all things -- T. Rex. Moves like that go a long way toward pushing this inventive and entertaining group to the head of an overstuffed CCM pack. ~ Robert Ham