If you’ve ever been to SXSW, you know the hell that your feet endure. You walk downtown Austin hurriedly to get to the venue where one of your favorite acts is performing. Then, depending on the venue, you wait in line for a damned long period of time. You know, venues like Stubb’s BBQ , Emo’s East, and The Mohawk. That said, I was lucky enough to find my way into The Mohawk two days in a row to catch some captivating performances. The Thermals frontman Hutch Harris hopped off the stage to exchange shoulder-to-shoulder love with the crowd in the pit. I witnessed rising British electronic duo Disclosure perform one of their first shows in the states. Charli XCX crooned and danced enchantingly across the stage, inducing boners of crowd members from front row to the very back. That was probably just me, actually. But while Charli gave me a chubbs, Baths made me cream my jeans. His live performance was orgasmic. (Is this getting too prurient?) I enjoyed his performance so much, that I decided to write a review of his latest album, Obsidian.
Baths is the moniker of Will Weisenfeld, a Los Angeles native whose musical background reaches as far back as the wee age of 4 (and whose birthday of April 16th we share, funny enough). He has become a respected member of the L.A. beat scene since Daedelus turned him on to Daddy Kev’s Low End Theory, a weekly club which served as a springboard to recognition for Daedelus himself and a number of other instrumental beat musicians, including Flying Lotus. Weisenfeld takes from the L.A. beat scene a spirit that celebrates experimental sampling and incorporates interesting soundscapes into his work.
On Obsidian, Baths showcases his mastery of magical sampling. The beats on several tracks are very clickety-clackety. It almost sounds as if Baths recorded the sound of insect legs treading on wood and magnified the sound by 30 times, especially in tracks like “Ironworks”. His production reminds me of Björk and Matmos’ work on “Vespertine”, and indeed is reminiscent of what the strange and lovely Björk would call “microbeats”.
On the album, which Pitchfork has called “Best New Music”, “Worsening”, the opening track, immediately sets a mood of darkness for the album: suffering voices swell and a very gloomy analog synth melody hangs under a disheartened and soft-spoken Weisenfeld, who later on in the song sings “Where is god when you hate him most? / When the mouths of the earth come to bite on my robes?” It also features a bass voice that is at times unstable, adding quirk to Baths’ beats. During the chorus, a beautifully layered melody in his familiar falsetto driven by lightly distorted percussion that both hides and accents the backdrop. The stressed off beats in the chorus muddy the meter, contributing yet more quirkiness and a little bit of perplexity to the piece.
A unique thing about Baths when compared to contemporaries of the L.A. beat scene is his greater pop sensibility and tendencies. It shows most in tracks like “Miasma Sky”, which uses a pulsing syncopated synth pattern that has become popular in modern EDM. There’s even a key shift in the track (think “I Will Always Love You” and “Living on a Prayer”). “No Eyes” recalls the pulsing sixteenth-note arpeggiated synths and catchy vocals of synthpop.
Just as he did on his debut album, Cerulean, Baths invites us into the depths of his emotions. He writes about really relatable subjects, like the failed “maiden voyage” that is a broken first romance that Baths writes of in the track “Incompatible”. The duality of melody and dissonance penetrates the whole of the album. It moves from waves of pink noise that superfluously fill silent space and crackling to gently delivered melodies that rise and fall above the instrumentation.
Overall, Obsidian is a perfect album to listen to on a rainy summer evening. I recommend listening to this album on high quality speakers or headphones so that you feel truly immersed in this impeccably produced work. Baths is currently touring the U.S. in promotion of his lush sophomore album. Check the dates below for a show near you, and keep your eyes peeled for future releases by this talented beatsmith. I personally can’t wait to see how Weisenfeld will evolve as an artist.
6/12 – Cambridge, MA – The Sinclair*
6/13 – Philadelphia, PA – Union Transfer*
6/14 – Washington DC, – Black Cat*
6/15 – New York, NY – Webster Hall*
6/16 – Richmond, VA – Strange Matter*
6/17 – Atlanta, GA – The Masquerade @
6/19 – New Orleans, LA – Hi Ho Lounge*
6/20 – Houston, TX – Fitzgerald’s*
6/21 – Austin, TX – Mohawk*
6/22 – Dallas, TX – Loft @ Palladium Ballroom*
6/24 – El Paso, TX – The Lowbrow Palace*
6/25 – Tucson, AZ – Club Congress*
6/26 – Phoenix, AZ – The Crescent Ballroom*
6/27 – San Diego, CA – Casbah*
6/28 – Los Angeles, CA – El Rey Theatre*
6/29 – San Francisco, CA – Great American Music Hall*
* – w/ Houses & D33J
@ – w/ D33J
# – supporting The Postal Service