The move to New York City from San Francisco seemed inevitable for Jeremy Cox and Jigmae Baer of Royal Baths. While the duo can’t really escape its Bay City influences, the dark and gloomy nature of New York is a perfect fit for Cox and Baer on their second album, Better Luck Next Life.
Better Luck Next Life follows up the band’s 2010 album, Litanies. Cox and Baer share vocal duties on this LP, although they have distinctly different styles. Baer sings with a Lou Reed-like deadpan voice, while Cox has a lighter inflection. The contrast allows for a great back and forth like on the track “Black Sheep.” On it, Baer confesses, “I think of death and murder,” with Cox finishing Baer’s thought, “…All the time,” like the Mr. Hyde to Baer’s already disturbed Dr. Jekyll.
A lot of artists influenced by the San Francisco sound of the ’60s try to capture the good side of an acid trip, but that doesn’t interest Royal Baths. The band is more drawn to the foreboding aspects of a bad trip—you know, like ending up on the floor in the fetal position with your eyes closed or being haunted by images of your dead cat. The band gets to the sound of those feelings in two ways: First, the band employs creepy, slinking guitar riffs that make it feel as if someone might mug you at any point in the album. Second, Cox and Baer will at times, without warning, go into psychedelic guitar solos and surround you with sharp, paranoid riffs. Despite its psych-rock influences, the duo doesn’t rely on a variety of instruments to convey the mood. Instead, the band doubles down on reverb, feedback, haunting vocals and doom guitar.
The titles for each of the songs give a good idea of what to expect. “Faster, Harder” is a darkly seductive love letter to a girl that descends into an unsettling description of the corresponding pair’s sex life. The album closes with “Someone New,” which is fitting because of how the song combines themes like love and marriage with images like oh, well, just the devil promising to have a girl’s head. Yes, Royal Baths has a lot in common with its San Francisco-based peers, but the moods are completely opposite, the sense of humor’s darker. If the current San Francisco garage/psych-rock scene were a sunny beach party, Royal Baths would be the group hanging out under the dock giving everyone dirty looks.