Sunday, November 14, 2010

Features :: Subliminal Messages :: Royal Baths

"I Detest"
Royal Baths

Let me straighten out what I'm after here in this series.  I listen to everything I can get my hands on these days, and my attention span varies wildly in terms of what I'm able to devote to individual artists, albums, or songs.  Whether I'm riding mass trans, driving my car, or playing a record in my apartment, the music often gets the sideways stare of a passerby on a poorly lit street. In this category of posts, I'd like to slow it down and dig into what attracts me about a certain artist by examining a single track from a new favorite album of mine.  By necessity, I won't be offering any sort of rating system here; if I'm willing to rattle on about something for this long, you can assume I like it.  Instead I'll be picking away at my own aesthetic, reducing it as if over a slow flame until I can say for certain what kept my attention for multiple listenings.  I'm not writing a biography of a band or rewriting Pitchfork's review through my own lens.  And I'm not expert enough to talk about any intention the band may have had on the production side.  End disclaimer.

I don't believe Woodsist has yet to find a better fit for its catalog.  Royal Baths sounds more natural on this Brooklyn-based label than even the title band, the Woods. But the gel stiffens for sure when it comes into contact with the Woods, or really, rather the Woods Family Creeps adumbration of the host band.  Try their tracks "Family" or "Twisted Tongue" against anything on Litanies and your ears will surely latch onto the same root formula of folk music backed with the curved-spine of psychedelia as the intriguing deformity.  Royal Baths take the psychedelic instincts of the borough band and head Manhattan-ward, coaxing the most memorable vibes out of the Warhol Factory scene, borrowing (not stealing, mind you) Cale's guitar,  Maureen Tucker's percussion, and Iggy's lower key vocal styling (when he wasn't busy lacerating his chest with glass).

Not to play this geography bit too hard, but it's also interesting to consider Royal Baths in the context of their native San Francisco.  While the scene out west these days is killing every prejudicial notion I've held for the land of Hollywood and fish tacos, I wouldn't have been so quick to point to their psych scene as the cause.  Thee Oh Sees come as close as I can recollect to producing the near-monotonic pandemonium that you'll find buried in the less safe tracks on Litanies. While I wouldn't apply the same adjectives to the two bands, on "I Detest," Royal Baths reaches into the same expansive terrain.

From the thick baseline in the opening measures, you're quickly transported to the too dark backroom of a party where all of the drugs have ended up. It especially reminds me of the date night sequence from Haskell Wexler's ultra-cool flick Medium Cool where Zappa's Mothers of Invention expand minds by blowing away brain cells. Further to my point, the flatly resonating drumbeat carried methodically by drummer, Eden Birch (great name), rides in the background as if she were patiently absorbed by her own hallucination, unaware that there were other musicians in the room. 

I find the open-ended suggestion behind the repeated "I detest" irresistible to contemplate.  What does he detest? Others, himself?  I'm sure he provides some answers in there that I just haven't cracked yet, but I prefer my interpretation that his scorn is simply untargeted. The ability to hate inwardly and outwardly in equal measure forms it's own kind of trance as the singer tries to hold his gaze long enough to certify his hatred. And so this becomes not the music of their other hometown hippie bands, but something else more in line with the deranged drug-stupor of the Manson Family.

So where's the pain? I'm the first to admit that what I look for in a good song is a twinge moment, either something inseparable from the whole or a momentary crucial stab. And I find it here in two places: at the minute forty-three mark when the bridge collides with the chorus and the guitar buzz revs louder, and in the call-and-response (Jeremy Cox and Jigmae Baer) teamwork. Where Baer's end provides a little more balance to Cox's voice on other songs from Litanies, his yelping on this track protrudes from the base of the singer's otherwise cool vibe like a caudal appendage (there: that's two spinal deformation references), and I love it.

Hell, I'm yelping and spitting right now like the pathetic Pomeranian that humps my leg in the fucking elevator every morning. I'm headed to work, and it's coming back in from taking the most satisfying shit of its little life. Good thing I've got Royal Baths to focus my spite.

Give the song a listen, and buy the album.

Royal Baths :: I Detest

1 comment:

  1. I do not detest.

    Thanks for pointing me to these guys.