Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Review: Baths - "Cerulean"

Well, this is it. Finally got the whole Baths album, after streaming it for a week on the internet (if you feel like previewing it before purchasing, I highly recommend that link). I only briefly mentioned him earlier, in my post on Shlohmo's latest EP, but Baths is, in my opinion, one of the most inspiring producers I've heard in a while.

Baths is Will Wisenfield. He lives in Chatsworth, and makes music on his laptop, though he also plays a ton of instruments (lots of guitar and piano on the album). After making a lot of music (that I will eventually listen to) under the monikers [Post-foetus] and Geotic, he was invited to play at a beat music show by none other than Alfred Darlington, aka Daedelus. That night inspired him to take his music in a new direction. That direction was Baths, and the result was Cerulean, which came out on the Anticon label July 6th.

Earlier, in my post on LandLord, I expressed my sentiments that the experimental beat music movement + good songwriting/lyrics makes me happy about the future of music. Well, it holds true here. When I saw him live last week, I congratulated him after the show for making the music I wish I could be making right now. Because when you take the left-field, post-Dilla beats of FlyLo (among others), suffuse them with the chillwave atmospherics of Toro y Moi (among others), and add the songwriting and vocal sound of Passion Pit (the dude is a dead ringer for Michael Angelakos), you get three of my favorite styles all wrapped up into one. And that makes me a happy lobster.

~ ~ ~

On to the album. "Apologetic Shoulder Blades" opens it all up with a heavenly falsetto chorale, making you think you're going to spend the rest of the next hour listening to Will's voice. And in a way, you are. But here's the thing. After a few seconds of pure layered vocal loveliness, in come the stuttering beats, which quickly grab the spotlight. To Wisenfield, the human voice is only one element in the mix. And for the rest of "Shoulder Blades," and many other tracks on the album, that's how he does: even when the song has lyrics. Baths harmonizes with himself, adds counterpoint over that, then slices the result to pieces, most notably on tracks like the off-kilter-but-still-badass "You're My Excuse to Travel" and the glitchy, almost Dntel-ish "Indoorsy." Those are both songs with actual lyrics and song structure, both of which take a backseat (but not too far back) to solid and innovative production, and frankly the result is AWESOME. Even instrumentals like "Maximalist" and "Aminals" have vocal elements or samples in them. Only real instrumental here is "Rafting Starlit Everglades," if you really care.

But that's not to say he's just a producer that happens to write. "♥" is a clear standout, melancholy but groovy at the same time, with wonderful shifts in mood both musically and lyrically. "Lovely Bloodflow" also does wonders with the beastly rhythms + awesome lyrics combo, though his falsetto goes a little too Prince-y for my taste on the first line of each verse. And "Plea," probably my favorite track on the album, is likewise a fantastic song. Defying conventional verse-chorus structure, it recycles one melodic unit, with lyrical themes that evolve with every reiteration. With an awesome beat to boot! Enjoy:

Plea - Baths

As one might expect, that one also killed live. Here's what I got from his Troubadour show July 3rd (Daedelus also played, expect an epic video post soon); excuse the sound, it was a still camera with surprisingly good video quality:

(gotta love the live manipulation, and the live vocals (!!), he definitely gets points for that.)

My other favorite is definitely "Rain Song" (too lazy to post, if you want it just buy the sucker). He goes into the production of that song, as well as the rest of the album, in this article.

Then of course there's the blogosphere favorite "Hall," with its cyclical chorus, glorious harmonies, and weird-as-hell-but-still-awesome tape-manipulating intro. Here's the Asura remix, I think it's fucking great, even if the beat lasts for only about a minute:

Hall (Asura Remix) - Baths

If I had to assign it a grade, I'd give it an A-, and that's only because I know this dude has the potential to improve even more, following a truly impressive debut. With too few weak points to complain about, Cerulean knocked me off my feet with its stronger ones, proving that experimentation and innovation are still alive and kicking in music production–and more importantly (to me at least) songwriting–today. BUY THIS, FOOLS!

at Anticon
or iTunes if you want it cheap and easy.

-el langosta

P.S. if you're new to the whole beat music scene, read this, courtesy of XLR8R.

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