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Royal Baths – Litanies

on November 01, 2010, 7:59am
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There are certain albums that feel special. Perhaps it’s a highly beloved group reuniting after a decade, the long-awaited LP from a highly touted artist going solo, or the debut of a band whose name crackles with the energy of buzzworthy-ness. Most of that’s a lot of hype, but in rare cases, you can find an album that serves as a nexus of sorts for something bigger than the music itself. In the case of the debut LP from San Francisco’s Royal Baths, it’s discovering just how appealing an album can be when you force yourself to listen beyond even your second or third  impressions.

There’s nothing unique or creative about the band’s vaguely retro, droning sound. Dozens of bands have tried to recreate the shell-shocked psychedelic music of the Velvet Underground, but this album represents a one-of-a-kind opportunity to test if the listener can make their way through the cheap knock-offs and find that wonderful core of enjoyable pop music.

And that’s where the whole “how far are you willing to go with this album?” thing comes in. If you judge this effort from a shallow listen (as I almost had done), going right from the gut, you can undoubtedly trace a rough outline of a lot of people’s end thoughts. “Nikki Don’t”, with its rumbling desolation and stripped-down punk guitar, along with the added bells and whistles of chimes and husky male vocals, seems like a beautifully nihilistic ‘60s pop song warning a young girl about life’s troubles. As warm and energized as that will make you feel, the angry hiss and manic pop of tracks like “Needle and Thread” and “Sitting In My Room” will harsh that mellow real quick-like and surely stick with the listener who decides not to venture upward and onward.

Getting intimate with tracks like “I Detest” and “Sinister Sunshine” lets you better understand their hackneyed approach to re-imagining the wonder of groovy ‘60s music. “I Detest” has a total bummer of a chorus that could eat its way through the top of your skull and set up shop as you nod your head from here to eternity. The track’s mood, a feeling of total isolation and unimaginable hatred fueled by angst and despair, probably helps to accomplish that. The latter track plays out like a skuzzy Motown classic, if you happened to replace the energetic instrumentation and soulful singing with the ache of a cracked guitar and the sounds of happiness dying. That juxtaposition in particular takes some time to come to you, but when it does, it’s hard not be drawn in by the beautiful abyss that is the band’s musical aesthetic.

Since not saying it will only add more chum to the water, there’s going to be quite a few listeners who can ignore the parts about having to work for it and just get right into clicking with this particular offering. For the rest of us who have a little extra time, a bit of focus, and the ability to glean through heaps of so-so junk for the truly enjoyable, the album should be worth the work. Or you could just keep listening to Vampire Weekend.

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