Nice work, Royal Baths: You’ve made a record that vomits all its influences onto its sleeve, but is uniquely awesome. Normally a litany of obvious antecedents denotes unoriginality, but in this case they’re all spices in a fresh recipe. The basis for the album is Velvet Underground through and through, but less purely and oppressively as The Black Angels or My Bloody Valentine. It’s equal parts black humor and genuinely unsettling weirdness, sometimes corny but never empty, drenched judiciously in reverb, but crisp and focused on songcraft above all.
No doubt, this stuff is psychedelic and heavily evocative of a drug haze, but it’s not the kind of thing you’d want to listen to on drugs, unless you want to risk permanent damage. “Be Afraid Of Me” effectively conjures up a truly menacing spirit, the kind that might viciously attack your psyche if it’s out for a walk at night. The superb production flies in the face of most such shoegazey noise; you can actually make out each individual element of the cacophony, which is so unusual that it’s extra creepy. But sometimes Royal Baths mask their bad intentions, as in the insidious stomp of “Nightmare Voodoo”, which could almost pass for a sunny pop song if you ignore its lyrics. Right, almost; it’s still ragged and dirty but it’s got a disturbing bounce to it.
Also bouncy: “Black Sheep”, like the kind of bouncy that occurs if you are blacked out and driving across a field and the carbonation in your intestines is fighting to be released out your mouth. And it’s hilarious. The sparkling gem of the album is “Faster, Harder”, a slinking, seething lope that Iggy Pop might have conceived on a mental bender with Lux Interior…although “I love my damaged girl/Oh Lord my damaged girl/Through sinful excursions/Down shared perversions” actually might be more reminiscent of Frank Zappa than anything, but would these three not have been a wet dream of a co-conspiracy? One of the best songs I’ve heard all year, and it’s been a great year for songs.
There’s not a stinker here, but the penultimate track “Map Of Heaven” also stands out: Crazy Horse outta the gates, particularly reminiscent of “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere” at first but like most of these songs, it takes little time in getting demented. By the end it sounds more like Flipper or The Wipers. The album is never fast, never belligerently abrasive, but it’s sort of like a punk rock mutation of Timber Timbre, with that underlying unease and unique combination of retro and modern, pastoral and urban. Above all, fun, but with as-yet untallied interesting layers to peel away with each successive listen.