Music News

Baths Spurns Good and Bad Labels with Obsidian

Will Wiesenfeld, the 24-year-old lap-pop programmer and dedicated pianist who performs as Baths, has made numerous mentions of his disdain for the "glitch" tag that is sometimes glued to his palpitating, cathartic compositions. Can't blame him: It brings to mind inscrutably syncopated drum 'n' bass, or the decreasingly cited anymore refuge of IDM ("intelligent dance music," cerebral '90s scatter-shot techno like Squarepusher that is impossible to actually dance to). His presence on the Anticon label, an outpost for emotionally vulnerable indie rap, doesn't help. It has merely opened the door for the mark of "glitch-hop," which in addition to being wack sounds like a perilous dance move.

No, the synth crackle of Baths is less a rhythmic seizure or digital logjam and more a warped wave, a deep breath that clears a headspace, or a spine tingle resulting from unexpected news. Obsidian not only illustrates this distinction in clearer terms but moves further into the emotionally and sexually undaunted territory that sets him apart from the flood of indie-crossover electronic producers.

It's not a surprise that Baths was brought along on the recent reunion tour of The Postal Service, the much-adored but short-lived mid-2000s emo-house duo of Jimmy Tamborello and Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard. His production definitely owes a debt to Tamborello's dramatic and twinkling synth work on Give Up, The Postal Service's only record, and his earlier releases also may have been guided by Gibbard's innocently romantic imagery. However, Obsidian traffics in more downcast, defeated terms.

Wiesenfeld suffered a debilitating bout with E. coli after finishing his previous album, Cerulean, reportedly leaving him immobile in bed for months without any energy to work on music. If the lyrical content is any indication, he also must have endured some kind of disappointing romantic stasis. The static-y stomp of "No Eyes" has Wiesenfeld lamenting, "This isn't the adulthood I thought I wrote." As the song's tight synth march starts to fray, he delivers this salacious lyrical plea with more desperation every time the chorus returns: "It is not a matter of if you mean it / It is only a matter of 'come and fuck me.'" Though it could be seen as a self-loathing depiction of no-strings sex, it actually hammers on the theme of decaying affection that appears throughout the album.

Some of Baths' earlier textures also suggested more of a suburban intimacy than the heavier dance floor material, which Obsidian takes even further with samples of heavy rainwater smacking patio wood and hi-hats that sound like bonfire crackles. There's even a lyrical motif of coupled domesticity on the cooing "Incompatible," but it's one that is going sour by the minute.

Wiesenfeld talks of sharing a toilet seat with a new boyfriend who can barely keep his interest through the everyday mundane, tiresomely trying to reignite a rapidly fading lust when they turn the lights out. Any Millennials who had their formative backseat make-out sessions soundtracked by Give Up could just as appropriately brood over their first mid-20s breakup to Obsidian.

The confessional "No Past Lives," which admits to wrapping "my parting lie" in "all the bows," quickly alternates between a surging, hazy string fog and a speedy, bare piano counterpoint that pushes frustratedly against the song's druggy slouch. "Lodged in the rectal wall of agony / Hell is our only home," Wiesenfeld cries.

Near the end, the sheets of sustained strings slacken into a brief, downward, what's-the-point-anymore pitch shift, as if even his software can barely hold its emotions together to reach the finish. Though just as quick and unexpected, it feels like more than a glitch.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Chase Kamp
Contact: Chase Kamp