Baths takes a trip to a strange, dark place… but is it worth visiting?
6.8 / 10
In 2010, Baths (stage name for electronic artist Will Wiesenfeld) released his debut album Cerulean. It’s a strange, beautiful album with glitched samples, off-rhythm beats, and dreamy synthesizers. Cerulean painted Baths as not only a musician to watch, but one that could cook up original, creative material. His follow-up, Pop Music / False B-Sides, received more mixed reactions, but it was never really supposed to be his second full-length album; it’s a collection of songs that were written after his debut while he was on tour. The true successor to Cerulean would be released 3 years and one E.Coli outbreak later. Obsidian was written after Wiesenfeld’s devastating E.Coli infection, where he was bedridden for months. This record drops some of the nuance of Baths’ previous releases in favor of immediacy and aggression; this album was written by a guy ready to get back to work.
Nearly every track on this record has vocals and lyrics — compare this with his debut, where a falsetto warble would occasionally peak its head up from under the music to add a slight flare to the song. On Obsidian, these tracks are more traditionally-structured, and it isn’t until the final track that we actually get an instrumental track. Perhaps it is because he’s tired of being identified as a disc-jockey rather than a “real” musician, but Baths has turned his back on many of the things that made Cerulean such a nice listen. The glitch-pop of his debut has been transplanted with mostly straight-forward electronic beats. Obsidian’s best tracks put the composition first and have Baths’ vocals in a more supporting role (“Ironworks” and “Earth Death”). The worst tracks will make you wonder if this is even the same guy that wrote Cerulean (“No Eyes” and “Incompatible”).
But let’s talk about the lyrics on Obsidian. Baths tries to explore darker territory on this record, and he’s explicitly said as much. Many of these tracks speak frankly about death, suicide, and casual sex with strangers. On Obsidian, sex and love are a means of assault, degradation, and injury. Take, for example, the chorus of “No Eyes”: ”And it not a matter of/ If you mean it/ But it is only a matter of/ Come and fuck me.” Not dark enough? Try on the chorus to “Miasma Sky”: “Tall rock shelf/ Are you maybe here to help me hurt myself?/ Miasma sky would you swallow me alive?”. The chief issue with these lyrics is not that they are dark, but rather that they are academic. Because Baths has gone out of his way to try to seek out the dark side of his personality, there’s almost no emotional heft to this music. When Baths sings about depression, it feels false and hollow.
Baths should be commended for going out of his comfort zone on Obsidian — he’s pushing himself deliberately in directions we wouldn’t have imagined. Unfortunately, this trip-to-the-dark-side experiment doesn’t work for the most part. It’s completely possible to have raw emotions wrapped in syrupy pop music; Passion Pit’s Gossamer serves as a recent example, but too much of Obsidian feels forced. The moments that shine on this record are great for reasons completely unrelated to the newfound morbidity of Baths’ personality. “Ironworks” and “Ossuary” swoon with their beautiful chord changes, and “Earth Death” hits a groove that is completely irresistible. Baths’ Obsidian will serve as a good listen if you’re sitting around waiting for the Postal Service to re-re-release Give Up: 20th Anniversary Edition, but if you’re looking for Cerulean Part 2, you’ll need to look elsewhere.
Purchase: Baths – Obsidian