November 19, 2010


Douglas Martin tried for months to style his hair like the Reid Brothers. He eventually decided to invest in more hats.

If you feel Royal Baths sound a little familiar, that’s because they are. The bass-heavy rhythm section and balmy analog production is reminiscent of all-time greats The Velvet Underground, while the drilling, distorted guitars and half-asleep vocals are cribbed straight from noise-pop lynchpins Jesus and Mary Chain. Add a dash of Morphine (and probably morphine), bring to a boil while stirring continuously, and you have yourself the broth in which the Bay Area band stews in.

No band is exactly reinventing rock in 2010, but there are certain points where debut record Litanies sinks under the weight of the heavy names that preceded them. “Nikki Don’t,” despite being a near-irresistible pop tune (complete with glockenspiel!), sounds exactly like a lost demo from the Psychocandy sessions, albeit without the guitars overflowing with fizz. “I Detest,” “Sitting in My Room“ and “Needle and Thread” solve that problem, coupling the earachey buzz with Darklands-style menace and singers Jigmae Baer and Jeremy Cox providing dual-octave harmonies like a double-tracked Jim Reid coming down from a really bad acid trip.

Murky opener “After Death” is the album’s clear highlight, with the band’s aversion to anything remotely resembling sunlight and lighthearted “ba-bas,” reversing itself during the song’s second-half. The greatness of the song lies in its sociopathic glee, the indie-rock equivalent of Omar from The Wire whistling “The Farmer in the Dell” while happily walking the streets of Baltimore toting a shotgun. Enjoying Litanies is more about you and me than it is about Royal Baths. Can Litanies be categorized as a good record when the fingerprints of the band are virtually untraceable? How many records in your collection are overwhelmingly derivative but still endlessly replayable?

MP3: Royal Baths-“After Death”
MP3: Royal Baths-“I Detest”

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