The phenomenon of living, the exquisite evolution of metabolism, of breath, of sensation and coming to interpret and understand the tangible world, has been contemplated by humanity for millennia. There are inseparable truths of our existence like birth, growth, suffering, joy, and death which must be contemplated by human beings lest one find themselves completely lacking an abstract awareness of personal value and meaning. Increasingly, we understand that part of this intellectual maturation involves a contemplation of mortality and, vicariously, far more people contemplate suicide than had ever been described in sociological and medical research before the past handful of decades.
Those who describe their suicidal ideations note frank feelings of hopelessness, marginalization, lack of skillful handling of their environment and relationships in a way that leaves them with the sense that broaching their own mortality is the only tangible thing they could succeed in. Three out of four people who attempt suicide present to their primary care physicians within the time they are considering their plans in an attempt to have their voice heard, a feeble outreach for assistance, for someone to notice their destructive mental processes. Many other ways to reach out have been forged; among these, artistic endeavors attempting to describe one’s inner turmoil have been among some of the most arresting pieces of human creation in history.
Baths is LA based electronic music producer Will Weisenfeld who rocked the indie beat and glitch-hop scene in 2010 with his bombastic debut Cerulean notable for its uplifting morals, peppy production, and generally youthful but reflective moodiness. He is a master of off-kilter rhythms, a layering wunderkind, and lyrically mature beyond his years. He returns with a decidedly more somber and downtempo follow-up entitled Obsidian (Anticon, May 2013) which displays his new contemplation of mortality, purpose, impulsivity, and human relationship dynamics. The album is utterly arresting, gorgeous in its ambition and personality, but ultimately extremely painful to listen to given how deeply he delves into references to suicide, godlessness, self-destructive decisions and behaviors.
Baths’ “Miasma Sky”
Where does Weisenfeld gather his enthusiasm for shining light on these disturbing themes? Looking into literature involving suicide is lush of associative factors on attempts and successful self-deaths but is surprisingly sparse on the more widespread suicidal contemplation. It’s fully understood that suicidal idealization is an inherent byproduct of the human condition and is likely a personal process for a majority of people the world over. But where the literature notes psychiatric illness, substance abuse, isolation, impulsiveness, and acute stress as associative factors involved, Weisenfeld goes one further to include relationship turmoil, spiritual dissatisfaction, and physical illness broadly in this record. He is an urbanized young man, classically trained musician, expressive of his modern homosexuality, and adored by listeners nationally. Given his acclaim, his worldliness and self-assured beat making, his self-loathing is surprising and seems to illuminate the fact that what he’s describing is perhaps more ubiquitous than our culture would accept at this time.
The most outstanding moment on the record, initial single “Miasma Sky” seems apropos to begin digesting the album. With its incredibly warm production and masterful interplay between minor and major modes, Weisenfeld seems to be at once giving into and combating his destructive hopelessness. “Tall rock shelf, are you maybe here to help me hurt myself? / Miasma sky, would you swallow me alive?” Having overcome a serious bout of systemic E. coli infection during the production of this album, Weisenfeld creates piano lines, ambient tones and lyrics which reflect this overbearing sense of impure, stank environmental conditions causing his dissociative feelings on living. Further, having been infected with impure elements and being utterly helpless seems to drive him to explain his masochistic homoerotic behaviors in “Incompatible” and “No Eyes” that are loveless and timid but primal in his urgency, again pointing towards the kind of impulsivity that births a contemplation of mortality.
Album opener “Worsening” kindles an immediate trepidation in the listener with the fascinating opening refrain “Birth was like a fat black tongue / Dripping tar and dung and dye / Slowly into my shivering eyes” and continues on to ask “Where is God when you hate him most?” Mid-album “Phaedra” draws inspiration from the Greek classical figure who accused her stepson of raping her and subsequently killed herself with guilt of her misguided slander. The driving percussion and 3/4 piano strikes over the song’s 4/4 backbone provides a spurning waltz gushing with power. The heavy hitting “Earth Death” hints at his understanding of the inescapable downward spiral towards physical obliteration, preferring to die immediately and be sucked downwards into the earth before having to endure the prolonged debilitation of end-of-life. For all its macabre sentiments, the album is impressively digestible and not so entirely melodramatic that the listener loses their taste. Weisenfeld’s craftsmanship for presenting such distasteful pontifications in a compelling and revelatory manner is awe-inspiring.
The record plays through with some of the most eloquent beat production and layered musicianship of any album this year. It plays from beginning to end with a continually compelling delivery and will stop any listener in their tracks at least a handful of times as they consider what they just heard, be it a lyrical sentiment or some brilliant melodic maneuver we’re all coming to expect from Weisenfeld. As rain plays prominently on this album, let us hope it cleanses and purges enough of Weisenfeld’s self-loathing that he may continue as an artist in the modern era expanding how expressivity manifests within laptop music. If Obsidian is indeed his outreach, his sentinel creation to give people the chance to intervene on his behalf and save him from his destructive behavior, then please someone take the time to be his pressure release valve, his connection to the world, his grip on the existential questioning of mortality.
Written by Case Newsom
OurVinyl Senior Writer
Baths’ upcoming tour schedule
5/29 Missoula, MT – The Palace Lounge *
5/30 Boise, ID – Neurolux *
5/31 Salt Lake City, UT – Urban Lounge *
6/1 Denver, CO – Bluebird Theater $
6/2 Omaha, NE – The Waiting Room $
6/5 Minneapolis, MN – Triple Rock Social Club *
6/6 Milwaukee, WI – Turner Hall *
6/7 Chicago, IL – Metro *
6/8 Detroit, MI – Magic Stick *
6/9 Toronto, ON – Horseshoe Tavern *
6/10 Montreal, QC – Le Belmont *
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 *
* with Houses & D33J
~ with D33J