Royal Baths came up with some sturdy songs for Litanies. It’s a record of rock dirges that know how to keep from dragging, wandering into bright change-ups and full melodies when they need to carry on. It’s the work of Jeremy Cox and Jigmae Baer, Baer having spent time in Thee Oh Sees and Ty Segall. The Baths aren’t as garage-bound as those bands. They’ve got the blurry echo of the former and the attention to hooks of the latter, but they’re more ponderous than either of those acts. They tend to move at an opiate pace, and the singing has the black turtleneck detachment of early Velvet Underground.
It’s sort of unfair to bring up the Velvets when discussing any band like this. That legacy hangs over all bands with mallet percussion and open chords. But at its best, Royal Baths gives off an ironic effect similar to Warhol-era Velvets. It’s a lot like the way Lou Reed described shiny boots of leather and corner scores in such a nerdy fashion that he could have been talk-singing about baseball stats. As his career developed, Reed became a seen-it-all know-it-all, but on that first batch of reports, he was still dryly excited to slink around with all the failing souls, still unsure about how low he could go, a little bewildered that he hadn’t hit the bottom yet.
As the Baths slink through their own variations on “Venus in Furs,” Cox’s thin voice sounds bored — excited to be bored — about the bad shit he sees all around him. One of the stronger hooks here is just him mumbling, “Do I detest.” “Needle and Thread” is Litanies‘ peak, where an off-center melody and rushing beatnik lyrics work around a lot of noise, and the song coalesces into something that’s immediate and uncomplicated.
The interesting thing about all this cool posing is that Baer writes the words, but Cox sings them. Baer only provides falsetto responses to Cox’s narration. The two have sympathetic styles of singing and playing guitar, and it’s easy to imagine another Royal Bath’s album where they switch duties. Which is to say, I think this band has more to offer. A lot of acts assume punkish roots, and when they move their sound toward more measured indie rock, any sense of tension is lost. That doesn’t happen here. Baer and Cox sound curious about where their darker instincts are leading them, and aware of the trade-offs. They aren’t just a couple of jerks rocking out — but they haven’t ruled out that option, either.