Whereas 2010?s “Cerulean” chirped and twitched in artistically novel way, knob-turner/producer savant Baths’ new album, “Obsidian,” favors blood-thinning vocal performance of chilling lyrics atop his signature organica-influenced blend of musical surrealism.
Baths, the moniker of LA-based beatmaker Will Wiesenfeld, continues to draw on the sounds of the natural world (e.g. scissor cuts, doors slamming, coins dropping, clicking pens and teeth) featured on sophomore “Obsidian” while combining these real world sounds with fundamentally synth-based “freak pop.” The main departure from “Cerulean” is in the darkness of not only the cover art but also the deeply morose lyrics. Thematically woeful, the album focuses on death, isolation, lust and the defeat of romantic love, as well as mythological tragedy.
“Phaedra” is a reference to the Greek tragedy in which lust drives a man to madness and ultimately death. “Miasma Sky” alludes to the scientific belief stemming from the Middle Ages that tainted air causes disease and sorrow in throngs. The opening track, “Worsening,” also hints at the Dark Ages in which human development stagnates and one must decide to struggle for progression or succumb to apathy and disease.
The coupling of Wiesenfeld’s incredible winged falsetto and his deeply haunting lyrics leave little room to breathe during listening. In “Incompatible,” he sings about a failing couple, their relationship degenerating into resentment, tethered weakly only by apathetic sex. He sings, “You live in my house and we share a toilet seat/and I am not the least bit drawn to your heat/the covers in divisive heaps/scared of how little I care for you.”
Yet the immense irony of the album is this: the disturbing, stomach contorting lyrics and self hatred and dying are almost impossibly beautiful when sung in Wiesenfeld’s clear, bright voice above his intensely intricate, genius melange of organic and synthetic tones. The resulting sound is as if Dante Alighieri and Gold Panda teamed up to make a breakbeat-techno typhoon of beautiful ugliness.
“Obsidian” as a sophomore album is incredibly thorough, yet still possesses a couple of drawbacks: for one, this is not in any way a casual listening album. Akin to Kanye’s new Yeezus (meant only for the strong of ear and stomach), “Obsidian” is obviously not for casual iPod play or listening to while sitting in traffic. Arnold Schoenberg would likely approve of the album’s ability to redefine musical beauty: What makes us think critically counts as beautiful.
Secondly, “Obsidian” is greatly lacking in terms of singles, due to its seriousness and lack of casualness. “Miasma Sky” most closely approximates a single but is still radio-awkward outside the college realm. Lastly, “Obsidian” will not receive much play on sunny days: when this album is listened to will be dictated by a particular desire for moody introspection and bad weather.
The bottom line: an impressive, haunting second work. Drawbacks aside, amazingly weird and uncomfortable listening.