Review Summary: The word "bath" fits this album perfectly, as it wraps and soaks into the listener...down to the very soul.
There is no greater sensation than that of a warm bath. If ever music came close to reproducing that feeling, it is with the celestial brilliance of maudlin of the Well’s 2001 release, aptly titled Bath
maudlin of the Well is the musical brainchild of Toby Driver, the lead vocalist, guitarist, songwriter, lyricist, and only permanent member. Throughout his career, Driver has consistently written ingenious soundscapes, both with the now defunct maudlin of the Well and his ongoing side project Kayo Dot
. Despite his lengthy catalogue of releases, Bath
is widely considered to be his magnum opus.
On this album, every sound perfectly overlaps with the next, utilizing suspenseful and surprising mood swings that send a shiver down your spine. The overall experience is such a harmonized mixture of styles it simply cannot be filed under a specific genre. Driver is a mastermind, blending traditional rock instruments (guitars, drums) with less conventional ones like clarinet, saxophone, and even a church organ into a mystical blend of rock, jazz, and avant-garde. At the start of the opening track “The Blue Ghost/Shedding Qliphoth,” another aspect is noticeable. The bass guitar is placed very high in the mix, creating a thick, warm atmosphere, which can be best described as like a bath. The 7-minute instrumental track lays down a blueprint for the rest of the album, painting a prologue of all corners of the spectrum of sprawling textures to come.
On “They Aren’t All Beautiful,” Driver breaks the soothing ambiance by showcasing his metal tendencies. The light instrumentation is replaced by heavy, frantic guitars and Driver doing death metal growls. Fortunately, these tendencies do not monopolize the record, and actually manage to positively accentuate the furious angst of Driver’s lyrics, such as “Creation isn’t beautiful / You inspire the ugliest things.” On my personal favorite track, “Heaven and Weak,” the metal aspects are at their most subtle, but also their best. The song opens with light, folky guitars and bright singing, before abruptly spinning into deeper, faster segments and darker vocals. What makes this so appealing is that the more intense segments are woven into the softer ones perfectly, and Driver’s voice doesn’t stray to growls, but instead ventures into insane snarls that sound sung through gritted teeth.
To put it in a nutshell, the most unique and engaging about Bath
is its ability to wrap itself around the listener and make them think, “Wow, this is truly something from another world.” The impression of a soak in an astral bath is spiritually healing and inspiring. Holding the esteemed place as my 2nd favorite album of all time (after Discordance Axis
’ seminal The Inalienable Dreamless
is truly a work of art. It is completely original, defies all categorization, and is consistently and wholly absorbing from beginning to end.