Baths, Obsidian

Baths, <i>Obsidian</i>

Obsidian isn’t Cerulean Part II. The cheerful awkwardness and simple enchantment of Baths’ Cerulean helped push Will Wiesenfeld to the forefront of the glitch-pop scene, and then a more atmospheric but slightly repetitive encore album, Pop Music/False B-sides, helped defined the “Wiesenfeld” sound. Both albums established Wiesenfeld’s musical flair for thoughtful, well–crafted beats. On occasion, Wiesenfeld would lay a gentle falsetto vocal track to express feelings of romance or the struggle for acceptance. However, the focus of each song was never on Wiesenfeld’s lyrical material; the music was always first and foremost.

From that music, Wiesenfeld created a charismatic and buoyant musical landscape. Behind the apparent innocent playfulness, though, was an artist with a taste for the morose aspects of life. For his third album as Baths, Wiesenfeld abandons the sprightly pops and fizzes of glitch-pop and instead approaches Obsidian with a weightier sound and a substantially more personal approach. The end product is courageous as a decision to stray far away from Wiesenfeld’s previous two albums, but it’s a decision that is as beautiful as it is aggravating.

When compared to his previous albums, Obsidian is emotionally raw. Each track feels as if it’s a concerted effort on Wiesenfeld’s part to pull you into his emotional state. None of these places are particularly pleasant, mind you, given that the emotional core of Obsidian consists of anger, lust, and despair.

Wiesenfeld dives straight into the darker side of life in the album’s opening track, “Worsening.” Immediately Wiesenfeld questions, “Where is god when you hate him most / When the mouths of the earth come to bite my robes / Hell that sits below of you would do well to bellow / At the cold, the lifeless, the worsening souls.” It’s heavy stuff from an artist who’s known for sampling the iconic Miyazaki children’s movie Kiki’s Delivery Service.

The gloom shifts into regret during “Incompatible,” an uncomfortably honest ode to Wiesenfeld’s failing relationship. Wiesenfeld’s lyrical talents have always trailed far behind his musicianship, and “Incompatible” does little to advocate the nearly complete absence of instrumental tracks on Obsidian. While the music artfully conveys a sense of regret, Wiesenfeld’s lyrics often come off as ham-fisted.

It’s hard to overlook its flimsy opening lines: “First boyfriend / You live in my house and we share a toilet seat.” It could be argued that Wiesenfeld’s gawky lyrics reflect the precariousness of staying in failing relationship: graceless lyrics describing a graceless time. However, it’s equally valid that at its best “Incompatible” feels shallow, and at its worst it feels emotionally forced.

The same forced approach runs rampant in the tawdry “No Eyes,” a song focuses on the lust that fuels anonymous sex. The chorus repeats, “And it is not a matter of / If you mean it / But it is only a matter of / Come and fuck me.” It’s not subtle, instead choosing to ride the border between overbearing and vulgar. Perhaps these are the subversive thoughts of someone, as Wiesenfeld states, with no eyes, no love, and no hope. Perhaps it’s just crude.

There are instances in which Wiesenfeld finds a better balance between his lyrics and his music. “Earth Death,” with its hard-driving beat reminiscent of Bjork’s “Army of Me,” still accommodates Wiesenfeld’s bleak outlook while avoiding Obsidian‘s tendency to be too emotionally brash. With a chorus that that drones, “Come kill me / I seem so brittle / Come kill me / I seem so little,” Wiesenfeld’s despondence is unavoidable. However, “Earth Death” isn’t nearly as emotionally confrontational and emotionally engaging as Wiesenfeld’s previous tracks. It’s a step back that allows the listener to choose their level of involvement rather than dragging their emotions into the fray.

Likewise, the passing love affair described in the beautifully unhurried “Ironworks” communicates far more emotion through equally open and well-conceived lyrics. Gossamer piano and harpsichord arrangements accompany simultaneous feelings of joy and self-worthlessness. It’s a complicated composition that should have been the benchmark for the entire album, rather than one of Obsidian‘s handful of shining moments.

Obsidian relies heavily on the sensibilities of the listener. Wiesenfeld brazenly set to create an emotionally challenging album, and that inevitably risks the potential to be divisive. How you receive Obsidian largely depends on your current sentiment. There is also an imbalance between the beautifully-crafted music and Wiesenfeld’s uneasy lyrics or the emotional confusion expressed as the album progresses.

These ongoing conflicts and struggles prevent Obsidian from being lifeless but also do the album a disservice by presenting themselves as distractions. For all Obsidian does right, there is an equal amount that it does wrong. In the end, you’re left frustrated.

[Baths is playing 6/20/13 at Fitzgerald’s, along with Houses & D33J.]
BUY ME: Amazon

Review by . Review posted Wednesday, June 19th, 2013. Filed under Features, Reviews.

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