Review Summary: Baths stops asking all the wrong questions.
Who is Will Wiesenfeld, anyway? If the electronic producer’s debut album told us anything, it was that Baths is a sound geek at heart. Cerulean
was a collection of memories that paved the way to Wiesenfeld's musical future, placed together from stuttering glitches and his favorite movies’ audio samples. And as naive as it seems now, we all found ourselves believing Wiesenfeld would keep expanding on the shameless enthusiasm Cerulean
And look where we are now. Right when we thought we knew Baths, right when we have him pigeonholed in the category of 'eccentric optimist,' he backs into a corner and creates the most disturbing, alienating and telling album of his career.
is the pissed-off older brother nobody knew Cerulean
had, the budding antithesis of its predecessor’s contentment. It's dark in the darkest of ways, too-- as if its menacing album cover didn’t suggest this in the first place. But to be fair, there was plenty reason to believe Obsidian
was going to be an equally enthused affair. “Miasma Sky,’ the album’s first single, presented itself in an excited flurry. But at the end of the day, the track exists as exception over rule, existing as the single beam of light in an otherwise pitch-black room.
There’s a leisurely swagger about Obsidian
, leading to a massive change in feel for Baths. There are no bells and whistles this time around, just barren landscapes and lyrics, lyrics, lyrics. Sometimes Wiesenfeld tells stories of love; other times, he paints pictures of vicious death. The music is more intimate this time around, and makes for an infinitely more telling description of who Baths is. His thoughts are messy, and his songwriting follows suit-- this isn’t too much of a problem for those accustomed to it, though. Cerulean
was schizophrenic, but in terms of the music itself-- here, the most unpredictable element is how Wiesenfeld carries himself vocally, in the midst of all the different layers of sound.
This would be a good time to touch on Baths’ singing, and how it’s easily the most polarizing element here. “Lovely Bloodflow” was such an anthem because of its quirky vocals, in stark contrast to the otherwise instrumentally based Cerulean
. On the other hand, all the tracks here push Wiesenfeld’s voice to the forefront. And his voice is still shaky, flawed and revealing. It makes sense, though, to let his damaged timbre direct the album, because shit
-- this album’s damaged beyond repair. It's the sound of a musician coming to terms with his demons and making twisted art out of them. No wonder Will Wiesenfeld’s voice is perfect for the job at hand.
This isn't to say the album’s balance between vocals and music is without its flaws. Many of the instrumental parts of the music at hand simply don’t deliver, existing too passively for any sort of lasting experience. Some tracks take their time, and others are too drowsy to even be aware that time exists. The first example that comes to mind is “Ironworks,” a song that works on every front except for tempo. The track feels constructed to be livelier, not the slow-as-molasses ballad Wiesenfeld decided it to be.
But as unexpected as they are, the simplest moments here are the most charming. It’s when Wiesenfeld takes a pleasant melody and only tampers with it some, giving breathing room for the vocals. “No Eyes” exists as successful interplay between all ingredients at hand, with a distinct synth melody stuttering behind Wiesenfeld’s cries of “I have no eyes, I have no heart, I have no soul.” The album’s brutal, because its brutality is easy to miss.
The most pivotal moment on Obsidian
is “Earth Death.” The album’s clocks stop turning, and all goes black. “My men cannot get out of being pulled into the earth,” Wiesenfeld sings with as much apathy as trepidation. The song’s backbone trudges along steadily, as it injects more and more tension with every punch. The entire album has been flirting with this type of anxiety, but never has it been this outright-- a nervous breakdown redressed into a song format. And this is what Obsidian is all about, that Will Wiesenfeld still doesn’t know exactly who he is, but that he’s afraid there isn’t a point to the questions anymore. Who is Baths? Well, what does it matter?