It’s funny we have bands called Royal Baths and Royal Bangs – sure they come from vastly different parts of the States, equipped with independent margins and their own stratified sounds– but they both made music that might’ve been restricted to the record-clerks if it weren’t for the internet’s democracy. That charred, broken-glass, strung-out post-punk can infiltrate Facebook and Spotify with little hesitation is a shockingly new phenomenon – especially considering how the music isn’t always novel.
Royal Baths are a Brooklyn quartet of shredded, garage-goth merchants. They’re the exact kind of band who would’ve probably been collector’s-bait if it weren’t for the era – locked away on a few ancient tapes and a revisionist compilation. They’ve got an impressive set of musty guitar tones, most of their press photos are taken in black-and-white, and they’ve got a penchant for composing dirty, decrepit urbanite rock songs. Better Luck Next Life, their second full-length, does lapse out of recalcitrance, but its immersion makes for a worthy distraction. It’s like the band’s highly-specific dedication to craft picks up the art’s dangling slack. Their scrubbed-on grime can be surprisingly transcendent.
They make ugly music. Reedy slabs of psych-tussled murk, lyrics about violence and bondage; the twin giants “Burned” and “Be Afraid of Me” (combining to 13 jagged minutes) are among the darkest suites in indie rock this year. Light scarcely gets through. Baths showed us a few glimmers of chromatic melody back when they were located in on the west coast, but all that was left with San Francisco’s pastels. There are a few flecks of macabre jaunt, like the chiming, ruminative, and lyrically-perverse “Nightmare Voodoo,” or the twisted Lou Reed rant “Darling Divine” – but there’s nothing here for your mom.
Next Life occasionally sounds like a cynical, arid, scuffed-up take on the blues – notably on the desperate “Faster, Harder” and the singed country-rock jam “Map of Heaven.” Frankly it only accentuates the anxieties. Stripping roots-music to a disfigured, empty soul – a perfect bulletpoint for Baths’ cosmic bleakness, and good for an uncanny charm. The zombified Diddley is the record’s most remarkable specimen – when Royal Bangs come closest to proving they deserve a spot on the roster.
Unfortunately it only adds up to a dingy New York rock record with a creepy demeanor, a strong discipline, and a vast surplus of deformed guitar noise. It ain’t the ‘70s anymore, this sort of thing is not in short supply. Pop. 1280 put out an album with a strikingly similar ethos only a month ago. Structure and engagement aside, there aren’t a lot of reasons to return to Next Life’s swamp twice. It’s a vivid venture, but you can’t shake the feeling that Royal Baths will be responsible for better albums in the future.