Album Reviews

Baths – Cerulean

(Anticon) UK release date: 2 August 2010

Baths – or Will Wiesenfeld in some circles – certainly has the credibility: emerging from Los Angeles’ ever-expanding beat scene, he’s the latest in a line of artists to combine the tenets of shoegazing with the broad principles of electronica, the result being a relatively new creature entitled glo-fi.

Far from simply blissed out, however, the Baths formula is one that seeks to challenge and surprise. Cerulean is no Delorean effort. In fact, its glitchy tendencies and shifting time patterns render it more Prefuse 73-esque; gone, though, are the 30-second sound bites, and in come more fully realised productions.

Wasting no time in setting out its stall, the album shimmers forth with Apologetic Shoulder Blades, an ethereal patchwork of vocal harmonies – all Baths’ – that are soon augmented with thudding, juddery kick drums, faint bleeps and a restless-yet-measured amalgam of pen clicks, snapping scissors and goodness knows what else. It’s the sort of aural layer cake on which Cerulean makes its name.

If that sort of fare sounds a little unlistenable, it really isn’t: Lovely Blood Flow exhibits the same tuneful nous Cornelius occasionally makes his own, with melodic themes teased into the ether among ear-pricking, organic-sounding samples. Baths’ unexpectedly soulful vocal flourishes are the bonus thrown into the mix (though they are, admittedly, often afforded a little too much prominence throughout the album).

Perhaps taking a leaf from Grasscut‘s recent exploits, Wiesenfeld isn’t coy about sewing a thread of strange voices into his collage as and when required: Maximalist – one of Cerulean’s genuine standout moments – is joyous electronica that takes on a curious, escapist twist with the occasional input of detached statements. Aminals, too, takes on gravity above and beyond its composition with the inclusion of young, innocent voices.

There are, however, provisos: Rafting Starlit Everglades, while not venturing entirely into blissed out territory, is entirely laid back. It’s no crime, of course, and even a pleasant breather for the ears; it does, though, sound worringly safe next to the majority of its trackmates – particularly its successor, Hall, which dangles a glitchy carrot in front of a beat and melody allowed the space to grow into their own creature.

Similarly, Cerulean’s coda seems to congeal into an indistinct mass: the sounds, while still imbued with a measure of glory and beauty, disappear into one another (the slightly self-indulgent Departure in particular sounding somewhat ordinary) and the exception – the jittering, cacophonous Indoorsy, which channels a glitched-out Broken Social Scene – toes a delicate line between inspired and gimmicky.

Nevertheless, Cerulean is an LP of considerable promise, and possibly an important milestone on the diverse and intriguing development of the LA beat scene: like his genre contemporaries, Baths creates an auditory hotchpotch that ticks all relevant boxes, and the evocative, provocative soundscapes he is able to craft – not always perfect but never less than absorbing – are well worth a return visit.

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Baths – Obsidian
Baths – Cerulean