When Lou Reed and John Cale were sitting in a loft in New York City in 1965 and one of them said, "Hey, what if we write songs that have great hooks but sound kind of creepy and gloomy at the same time?," they had no idea that they were forging a template bands would be following long after the two were eligible for Social Security. It's debatable how much San Francisco's Royal Baths were inspired by the Velvet Underground and how much they drew from latter-day noise sculptors such as the Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine, or Thee Oh Sees, but these folks are clearly links in the same grand chain of fuzzy, malign pop music, and their debut album, Litanies, confirms they have the goods. While the buzzy guitars and languid but sneering vocals from Jeremy Cox and Jigmae Baer are the cornerstone of Royal Baths' sound, the oozing basslines from Tanner Griepentrog and the slightly wobbly but implacable drumming of Sheila Imandoust give these songs the forward momentum they need to go forth and spread evil, and though this band's attack is minimal, it's no less effective for its simplicity. The music speaks louder than the lyrics on Litanies, but Royal Baths do have a way with a metaphor on numbers like "Bad Heart," "Sitting in My Room," and "Needle and Thread." And while so many bands following a similar path are bombastic and over the top, Royal Baths give this music a tight enough focus that both the melodies and the "wasted at 4 a.m." atmosphere cut through admirably well, making this stuff sounds purposeful even as it drifts downstream. There are moments when Litanies suggests Royal Baths are good-bad, not evil, but there's enough quality guitar noise and spooky murmuring here to pass for the real thing, and that's a compliment.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming