Baths, ‘Obsidian’ – Album Review
Baths’ 2010 debut, ‘Cerulean’ was a sparkling gem of post-’Los Angeles,’ stumble-hop beat wizardry, combining liquid, ornate production with a kind of aching emotional sensitivity. Will Wiesenfield’s falsetto fell somewhere between contortionist R&B and secular choir boy. ‘Cerulean’ was mainly interested in showcasing immaculate and creative beatscapes, and the vocals more often than not took a supporting role, working mostly in realms of dreamy abstraction with song titles like 'Apologetic Shoulder Blades,' 'Lovely Bloodflow' and 'Aminals.'
Baths’ sophomore release, ‘Obsidian,’ arrives three years later, and it sees Wiesenfield trying out emotional directness. ‘Obsidian’ is a personal record and a darker one as well, full of frustration and disillusion. ‘Obsidian’’s production is still filled with indoorsy synths, glimmering guitar plucks, stuttering percussion, strings, piano and Wiesenfield’s own multi-tracked vocals, but it loses the glitch-hop leanings ‘Cerulean’ helped define, veering closer to acoustic strains of house, downtempo and IDM. Wiesenfield’s vocals and lyrics are the focus here, guiding and shaping each track.
“Are you maybe here to help me hurt myself?” Wiesenfield sings on ‘Miasma Sky.’ The track, one of ‘Obsidian’’s more uptempo, centers around an out-of-synch, staccato synth melody, the tearful vocals looming above like storm clouds. The song ends with some distant piano notes and spattering raindrops. ‘Incompatible’ details the distance between two people in a relationship somehow becoming strangers while living in the same house. ‘No Eyes,’ an almost nihilistic ode to emotionless, anonymous sex, is the album’s centerpiece, with its chorus of “It’s only a matter of, come and f--- me” riding on top of a robotic, slowed arpeggio and a bounding, static-addled 4/4.
If there’s any knock to level against ‘Obsidian’ it’s that its songwriting can oftentimes feel disjointed. Many of the tracks jump from the chorus into bridges of Wiesenfield’s wordless choir-like vocals, and sometimes, it can feel forced and stilted. Also, Baths’ production chops aren’t as sharp as they were on ‘Cerulean’ -- an album packed with little thrilling moments of surprise and climax -- which ultimately makes sense, given the lyrical focus here. But the vocals don’t always reach those heightened emotions, leaving a few songs forgetful and a little flat. Some of the lyrics on ‘Obsidian’ need a little more weight and darkness behind them to do them justice.
There’s still a lot to like about ‘Obsidian.’ Wiesenfield has his own sound, and it translates well to a more singer-songwriter-like focus.