I've been trying to organize my feelings on maudlin of the Well's 'Bath' for nearly a year. While this may seem bizarre too most of you, I think if you tried to review what you thought was the best record ever made, you'd want to make sure it was worth it. So, these are my thoughts on the album I have tied with 'Surfer Rosa' as the most influential, emotionally connected, and flawless album in my vast collection. While other albums such as Cursive's 'Domestica' and Brian Eno's 'Another Green World' are records I count as my favorites, only two albums have ever been able to effect me in the way both 'Bath' and 'Surfer Rosa' have. When I was in 6th grade my cousin was looking through my CDs and was very taken aback when he saw a burned copy of 'Surfer Rosa’ laying next too BNL's 'Stunt’ and Blink 182's 'Cheshire Cat‘. He told me that the Pixies were 'one of the coolest bands in history' and I should really try to get into them, as it would open up a whole other layer of music too me. I took to his advice, and listened to the album more intently then I had on first listen (I came upon the CD when I found an abandoned CD case in my father's classroom which had apparently been there for many months.) 'Surfer Rosa' changed my scope of what music could do, while Blink 182 and bands similar too them were catchy and kind of relatable, 'Surfer Rosa' was emotionally charged and deeply engraining itself into my psyche every time I spun it. When I first discovered the CD I must have listened to it nearly a hundred times that first month. Every word, every guitar line, everything just added up perfectly to what I expected music to do. 'Surfer Rosa' opened my eyes, and they only other time they've been that open was the first time I heard 'Bath'.
Most of you will probably know motW's current incarnation Kayo Dot due to their soaring popularity as one of the most innovative and unique bands of modern music. maudlin of the Well grew out of guitarist/composer Toby Driver's want to better his idols music. Driver was mainly inspired to form the band out of his love of Tiamat's classic metal album 'Wildhoney', and the fact that despite his affection towards the album, he felt it could be vastly improved on. And what an improvement maudlin of the Well is on Tiamat's sound. motW's aggressive back drop of death metal touched with acoustic and new agey passages is often compared to the band Opeth who also finds satisfaction in the heavy/pretty method. While I do not see any correlation between the two bands, as I absolutely adore motW and absolutely loathe Opeth, this is a common comparison so I figured I should address it. Where I think motW succeeds, where Opeth fails, is that Driver's compositions are far more difficult to place into a specific genre, while Aukerfeldt's are almost always clearly metal/metal influenced. This is where I believe motW's main strength comes from, their ability to be so progressive that they transcend genres just as Kayo Dot has continued too do. To describe this as strictly a 'metal' album would discredit nearly four whole tracks, not to mention various passages that draw nothing from the metal genre. In a sense, motW isn't concerned about the accessibility or the familiarity of their music, they are just concerned on the message they wish to deliver through it.
An important concept to note when listening too and judging Driver's music is that during the maudlin of the Well period of his life he was heavily engaged in the acts of astral projection and lucid dreaming. Driver claims that some of the tracks and parts on both 'Bath' and 'Leaving Your Body Map' were partially if not completely composed in dreams (mainly 'Interlude 4' found on 'Bath's' other 'half ''Leaving Your Body Map'.) Toby also generally regarded the album as not actually being composed, but instead drawn from some infinite abyss of art. Basically, Driver had his fair share of pretentious thought during the making of this album, and whether true or false, his theories behind its composing are integral too it's actually delivery as most of the songs' subjects actually deal with these theories and ideas.
Like I said before 'Bath' is technically disc one in a double album set consisting of itself and 'Leaving Your Body Map', while 'Bath' is often referred to as the better album due to it's less generic sound (to call 'Leaving Your Body Map' generic is a joke in itself) and also it's more cohesive nature, 'Leaving Your Body Map' is like Driver's theories an integral part of understanding the album 'Bath'. 'Bath' when compared to its harsher and more aggressive brother, comes off as a very dreamlike and fluid sounding album. Its subject matter of lucid dreaming is clearly evident in its very 'dreamlike' instrumental power, and it's almost ethereal sound. It is easy to say, that 'Bath' is the softer more beautiful listen in comparison to 'Leaving Your Body Map' as is evident even in it's heaviest and 'darkest' moments ('Birth Pains of Astral Projection') which suddenly turn into crescendo's of hope and joy aided by Driver's unique falsetto. 'Bath' is in my opinion far more concerned with beauty than the heavier and more dissonant oriented 'Leaving Your Body Map'.
maudlin of the Well's line up is an odd collection consisting of strings, woodwinds, guitars, percussion, keyboards, bass, female/male vocals, and death metals growls. The band makes use of all of these instruments admirably and excellently, whether it be in an elegant way (opener 'The Blue Ghost / Shedding Qliphoth') or aggressive (the epic 'Girl with a Watering Can'). The tones, when meant to be beautiful are beautiful, when meant to be heavy are heavy. The production does not suffer the curse most 'metal' production suffers; everything is mixed enough to sound real, yet refined. The album certainly isn't in the DIY production vein, but it's got a roughness to it that distances itself from the typical metal production. Basically instrumentally and vocally the album is perfectly mixed and sounding in my honest opinion. Were I too produce my own album; 'Bath' would certainly be one of the CDs I would try to imitate.
Describing the sounds of 'Bath' is nearly impossible, due to its constantly evolving and progressive nature. The instrumental opener blends into a standard death metal song that is flavored with horn interludes, and that song gives way too a very acoustic/folky ballad that includes a very ''80ish' guitar solo and so on. The band is kind of like Mr. Bungle in that they are constantly running through various genres, but while Mr. Bungle's technique is rough and almost humorous, maudlin of the Well's is very natural and very serious. That is another thing that should be noted when describing motW's music; it is very very serious and at times very very bleak. While the band certainly isn't like My Dying Bride in their seriousness, they do have that typical 'metal' attitude of 'our art is art, and there will be no flamboyance surrounding it'.
Lyrically the album is ridiculously strong. While the lyrics are unique, they show a heavy influence from the 'romantic' era of literature. The topics range from everything from Driver's theories on astral projection, too the literal representation of one's feelings on a painting. The lyrics are doused in metaphor and pure naked emotion, which helps them easily connect to the listener. 'Geography' the closer to the album, is one of the most emotionally charged songs both musically and lyrically I've ever heard and it's line of 'Speak, or stop, or kiss me' resonates on so many levels, it just leaves me speechless listen after listen.
I don't know if I've gotten across what needs to be gotten across about this album in my review. It's an essential album for anyone that considers themselves a 'music lover' in my opinion; it combines beauty, and aggressiveness in a way I have yet to see any other band do as effortlessly as any of Driver's concoctions. 'Bath' is a flawless album, and really it achieves its goal of transcending all preconceived notions of what music is. Like I said in my review of Kayo Dot's 'Dowsing Anemone with Copper Tongue', this is beyond music, this is pure emotional outlet.