If anything good has come from the recent movement of bands huddled under the neon “chillwave” umbrella, it’s been a more profound movement toward evoking feeling and subtle emotion through melody itself. Though the fidelity may sometimes be lacking, or the textures a little to squishy, hypnagogic pop has, at least in intention, a sense of everyday micro-romance to it that can be quite beautiful when done right. Los Angeles’ Baths, though sometimes lumped in with synthesizer-loving acts like Neon Indian, is much more akin to Flying Lotus’ bizarro hip-hop chopscapes, albeit with a much stronger vocal presence. Yet the connective thread between Baths’ Will Wiesenfeld and the glo-fi underworld is their shared sense of abstract sentimentality, a quality that shines brightly through numerous sideways filters on debut album Cerulean.
The track titles on Cerulean, which range from “Aminals” to “You’re My Excuse to Travel” to “_,” offer some surface insight to the dewy-eyed electronica that Wiesenfeld creates. It’s an album of love songs at its core, which may not be particularly novel, but much like Prefuse 73’s One Word Extinguisher, Wiesenfeld often says more with his heady and evocative productions than he does with his lyrics. The backward sweeping synthesizers on “Rafting Starlit Everglades” employ a powerful, cinematic quality, depicting in sound a kind of breathtaking moment frozen in time. And the more upbeat “Aminals” is as playful as its name implies, with various guitar loops swirling around one another, engaged in a sort of gorgeous glitch ballet.
Simple as Wiesenfeld’s lyrics can be at times, however, they nonetheless provide an added element of human pathos to these already stunning and delicate beatscapes. A powerful piano hooks provides an elegant backdrop for Wiesenfeld’s straightforward promise that “I love you enough to drive like an hour from where I am to be with you.” He ruminates on a “breezy, beautiful day” with “plenty of things to do” on the sputtering, space-age standout “Indoorsy,” while on “Plea,” a heartbreaking, well, plea to another man, Wiesenfeld combines a basic human need for affection with social acceptance, singing “We’re still not valid” one moment before pleading, “Please tell me you need me.”
Society has long moved past the idea that samplers and synths can’t provide the kind of emotional resonance that acoustic instruments can, but even in an age where auto-tune is the norm, there’s something unusually tender and affecting about the sample-based compositions on Baths’ Cerulean. It’s a very human album, vulnerable, melancholy and romantic. A sample on album highlight “Maximalist” states, “It takes a lot of courage to go out there and radiate your essence,” but with his head held high and his beats banging, Wiesenfeld accomplishes that very feat.
Video: Baths “Maximalist”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.