There comes a time when you listen to a particular piece of music and instantly recognize - perhaps categorically jest - that it's going to end up virtually contaminating your pattern of thought. Maybe not always, but when you least expect it. I have Will Wiesenfeld, a.k.a. Baths, to thank for giving me such musical symptoms. 2010's Lovely Bloodflow, much like Wiesenfeld's lush debut LP Cerulean, was filled with teasingly-catchy beats and extraordinarily-devilish methods in getting into a listener's head. Three years down the line and I still cannot get said track's falsetto-rubbing lines of 'kick up my shit you wanna, rustle these leaves/get me so red you wanna, ruffle these feathers' out of my brain. In that respect, Baths catches my eye a lot more than the flock of so-called 'bedroom producers' that have come to the forefront as of late. More-so, Baths' technique and method to the supposed glitch-hop sound strikes as much a chord as his counterparts Nosaj Thing, The Glitch Mob, even Flying Lotus, have been crusaders in on their own debuts into the arrhythmic territory of electronic glitch. But of course, sophomores offer no mercy for even the youngest or imaginative of creationists. And coming to Baths' follow-up Obsidian with the knowledge Mr. Wiesenfeld has taken to focusing less on sample-based techniques and more on organic instrumentation - even more note-worthy, the encompassing of lyrics as an intended target for the young producer - does at least confirm new-ground being covered here.
Worsening, by no means however, exercises this shift straight off-the-bat. Baths' foggy, relayed pattern of synths come immediately into the mix, ushered on by walls of chamber vocals and stuttering percussion. But it's Wiesenfeld's own vocals; the lyrical walls, that stand as the first turning point in Baths' musical divergence. While not necessarily emphasized or even applied through effects into the clouding textures of the electronics, they do come off as a far more emotive, even darker, suggestiveness as to what the music is attempting to create. In that respect, it adds even more context and meaning to how intense and grand the backing vocals and slap-handed force of drumbeats come charging into the song. There's specific attention too offered to Baths' use of string arrangements and a very gentle piano playing nestling too in the back, perhaps confirming that this isn't entirely a sound made for momentary bliss or wondrous texture as his debut felt more inclined towards. Miasma Sky follows this almost in the same conceptual manner. However Wiesenfeld's hand still plays a rather synthesized game with just how much the music comes across. But it's the artist's immediate lead into this synthpop-like treatment of beats and melody that gives an overwhelming feeling of rhythm and mode of speaking. Baths' vocals appear minutely, if at all, treated with effects. Even the back-and-forth trace of keys and percussion doesn't find itself seeping too far into the effect department. While there's still some use of reverb and echo, it's not entirely dictating or controlling of the sound's overall texture or deliverance. Rather, it's the melody and pace of the music - especially with the beats that come off remarkably crisp and refined - that takes the sounds in its stride. And given how swift and carried Wiesenfeld manages to keep his vocals at, the song overall succeeds in keeping a balance between the old habits and the newly-discovered sense of song-writing.
Indeed, Ironworks is perhaps Baths' most emotionally composed and organically orchestrated piece of the album. What starts with a very somber offering of piano soon opens out to a very tantalizing mix of classical instrumentation and anxious minimalism of beats. It's not necessarily off-putting with how Baths still lays priority with the electronics than he does the live instruments, and that's because the vocal placement appear to come to the instrument's aid. They add a sort of reassuring middle-ground while at the same time making sure the emotive depth of the instrumentation isn't lost by the monotony of synthesizers. And with Baths' objective to focusing on composition, his latter goal to adapt his sound to a band aesthetic comes up trumps on the track Ossurary. Here, the electronics are far more extrovert and expansive. Drumbeats are struttingly more paced, the fuzz of synths hit at the empty space like the guitars they're so inept to come off as, and Wiesenheld's voice carries with it a lot more weight and jurisdiction before it all. It's more energetic and less modestly hiding away as Baths has focused on previous. And amidst the atmospheric swirl of synths that still offer a kind of other-Worldly synthesis to the sound's textures, there's definitely more a live, garage-rock vibe to Baths' execution. And, surprisingly, it works.
My only concern however with Baths' new direction, is that at times I feel the particular concepts or fields at which Wiesenheld is attempting to architect, don't necessarily go far enough, or even deep enough to suggest they're fully fleshed out pieces. The track Incompatible for example sees Baths work around his electronic aesthetic of glitchy, textural synthesizers and a new-found love of live playing with piano and key chords. But above it, his vocals here don't exactly come out relating or even fitting the supposedly low-key mood he's clearly adapting to the piece. Further to that, the lyrical vocabulary and emphasis on certain parts I feel don't gel as well to the music's own rise and fall of tone. When Baths returns to focusing attention on this supposed synthpop mode of song-writing, it provides us with some more insightful and intriguing facts to his capability as a musician. No Eyes is a very simply synthesized piece; electrically-colourful keyboards working to a crunched percussion and some rather experimental detours where Baths twists and contorts the electronics into drone-like mashes of feedback. And while I feel this is a perfectly capable piece with some interesting synthesizer hooks and perfectly-capable beats, it comes off less than complete; lacking it seems from that final stage of development and human imagination.
In that respect, this leads me onto another - and perhaps one of the more pinnacle - draw-backs to why Baths tends to stumble at the most crucial moments in his songs. And the idea that this is meant to be a more darker, more emotively rich record than his debut is where the problem begins to arise. True, while the instrumentation and use of live execution does lift the album from potentially being stale rehashing - thus giving a lot more of a stern, reactive energy about its delivery - I don't think Wiesenheld delivers the ideas he's clearly trying to invoke through the music, as well as he is intending. His use of instruments and the way they mesh together with the glitched pacing of electronics does provide a suggestiveness that the sounds being invoked are a lot more melancholic or anxious than what Cerulean had offered, but it's left unfortunately as just a suggestion (an implication more-so) than objectively a state or direction at which the album is heading in. It is warming, however, to see that's not tarnished Baths incalculable fondness for electronic texture when working alongside the physicality of instrumentation. No Past Lives for example, acts almost as if to a script whereby the bumbling piano and crunching texture of synthesizers take it in turns - shifting from one perspective to another, listener taken a back by how drastic yet naively kiddish the relation between the two is. And regardless of how opposing the two sounds are, there's something of a wider-picture surreality being hinted at. But even when focusing on the synth composites alone, Baths manages to create enough texture and enough physical presence that the surroundings do slowly convert into this hazy, crunchy contortion of sound as the song slowly reaches its climax.
But surrealism isn't in Wiesenheld's manifesto and I give the man credit for reminding himself that even ambition is not without its sensical borders. Earth Death is another one of Baths' five-man band efforts in catapulting his sound past the mixing desk and onto the wide, open stage. There's definitely more of a rock influence in this track than the former; the grungier, muddier treatment of synths making themselves known quite clearly from the off. And while there's still a bit of glitch in the percussion, it's nothing that takes away from Baths' formulaic structure of making this out to be a band's song. My only wish is that Wiesenheld's voice was given a bit more attention and emphasis - lyrics at times blending too much into the mix they lose any and all real lyrical quality. The closing track Inter, keeps to the same ideas but surprisingly, finds Baths giving the band methodology a more laid-back and downtempo approach. Drums are more mellow and foreshadowed by vocals - Wiesenheld himself working to more the vocal characteristics of his voice as opposed to simply a means to express lyrics. And with the softening haze of bass guitar and synths that come into play soon-after, the song definitely plays the end-of-album role quite fittingly (even if the song isn't necessarily a progressive piece, more just a gentle wind-down from what came before it).
It is nice to see an artist focusing on both ends of the emotional spectrum, especially when said artist relies less on acoustics or any real physical instrumentation in prioritizing texture. Putting Obsidian alongside Baths' debut, you clearly see the distinct opposing factors guiding, rather than forcing, the albums to their required destination. Unfortunately, in Baths' case, this is what I feel his sophomore has made the unfortunate mistake in missing out. And further to that, because Wiesenheld's sound here is one of balance - of reinvigorating the old while at the same time energizing the new - the unconvincing register for decision and control on his ideas, means there are points on this album that feel too centralized. Where I'm impressed by his playing of synthesized sound into that of a four/five-piece delivery, his more lonely synth-pop ideas and measures of sonic textures do present a frown around what exactly is the substance and what is merely applied treatment. Baths can't be criticized for trying to give his sound a darker, perhaps more melancholic flavour. But on occasions, where material loosens and content is more sparse than sonic, the indication these tracks are carrying more emotional or conceptual weight, does unfortunately fall on deaf ears. But his use of live instrumentation, whether the heavier, amplifying of rock, or the somber, revealing classicist orchestration, does give me reason to be confident. In this particular field of electronics - regardless of how effect-treated it might be - it can still offer us, at the very least, a sense of natural honesty.