The two comprise Brooklyn’s Royal Baths, and their second record, “Better Luck Next Life
,” shows an impressive self-assuredness, conviction and carefully crafted sound that seems only common among the calculating acts from New York these days (see: Sleigh Bells, Body Language). They’re also savage and unafraid of dissonant guitar noises, something they probably learned from San Franciscan tourmates Ty Segall and Thee Oh Sees.
The result is an album that exceptionally reconciles art-blues-rock pretense against the skill required to play it. Whoever’s playing lead guitar here certainly isn’t Dan Auerbach or Jack White, only shaking out pretty basic ascending solos a couple different times on the album’s centerpiece, “Be Afraid of Me.” But Cox and Baer still flood these songs with turgid delta-blues undercurrents that eventually get swirled in with the sorts of guitar sounds Sonic Youth liked to make back when they strung up cheap Japanese knockoffs with barbed wire. There are a couple really terrific sonic climaxes and rumbling accusation here (see: “Contempt”) that wouldn’t sound out of place if they showed up somewhere in the middle of “Confusion Is Sex.”
For those who like to wallow in the darkness without getting their pulses up on black-metal tempos, “Next Life” might just be your new favorite records. “I think of death and mooooor
-der all the time,” Cox and Baer croon on “Black Sheep,” which is lyrically the most disturbing and convincingly damaged song here. Right off the bat on opener “Darling Divine,” they recall Lou Reed’s earliest plaintive vocal tone work with The Velvet Underground and also succeed at casting that group’s expert touches of paranoia all over “Next Life.” That’s probably Royal Baths’ strongest currency, how convincing they are in their leeriness.
We get a more outstanding, aggressive actual blues guitar riff
in “Nightmare Voodoo,” and a more heavily rhythmic, Chicago blues song in the seven-minute “Burned,” which stand as a refreshing antithesis to The Black Keys’ rust-belt camp
. They even show off a little flair for pop hooks: “Take a walk / The block is hot,” but Royal Baths’ lyrics are certainly far from being explicitly memorable. They’ll haunt your brain more than stand out in your memory.