Between their debut album Litanies and its follow-up Better Luck Next Life, Royal Baths moved from San Francisco to New York, but the musical distance they traversed was even greater. Feeling constrained by Frisco's garage rock scene, Jeremy Cox and Jigmae Baer try a more expansive approach here, stretching out their songs and putting more emphasis on their guitar work. While their commitment to growth is admirable, it isn't always successful. The intensity of Litanies is still here, but the subversively poppy moments -- deadpan "ba ba ba" backing vocals, handclaps, the occasional sardonic glockenspiel -- are missing, with little else to expand on or contrast Royal Baths' surliness. The sneering love song "Darling Divine" and aptly named fiery guitar workout "Burned" are more successful examples of the band's new style, but the monochromatic threats of "Be Afraid of Me" and "Contempt" are more typical, with Cox and Baer's murmurs and their droning guitars blending into a blur. Some of Better Luck Next Life's poppier moments end up being more memorable: "Black Sheep"'s clever lyrical and vocal interplay advances the promise the band showed on Litanies, and the swampy closer "Someone New" displays a more developed sense of tension and release. Though Royal Baths' singing and playing have grown significantly since their debut, unfortunately too many of Better Luck Next Life's songs are all too easy to tune out.
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AllMusic Review by Heather Phares