Will Wiesenfeld wanted his second album as Baths to be nothing short of an out-of-body experience. While creating, producing, and performing Cerulean by himself may have been a declaration of independence at one point, he soon felt trapped and limited behind his MPDs, unable to fully connect with crowds, and mislabeled as a “DJ.” More crucially, his physical frame was failing him. Last year, a debilitating bout with E. coli rendered him incapable of eating or getting out of bed, let alone creating new music. After slowly convalescing, he channeled all of these pent-up frustrations and desires– for escape, for artistic growth, for transformation, for death, for self-actualization– into Obsidian. And by doing so, he didn’t just create his second album. He made an evil twin.
While Obsidian maintains some aspects of Cerulean, namely, its lap-pop intimacy and Wiesenfeld’s unsteady, quavering vocals, the shock is in hearing him make a complete heel turn, fearlessly operating like someone absolved of personal repercussion or culpability: He pursues every gnarly musical idea, every perverted lyric. Cerulean gave no indication as to how much range Wiesenfeld could cover working exclusively in purple and pitch black. Over the sickly, chain-gang lurch of “Worsening”, Wiesenfeld’s weary recitations serve as both an introduction to his newly florid, morbid poetry, and Obsidian’s thesis statement– “Birth was like a fat black tongue/ Dripping tar and dung and dye/ Slowly into my shivering eyes.” As to be expected from someone whose body was recently powerless over the most basic functions, Wiesenfeld sees death in everything. Tall rock shelves and an overcast atmosphere are viewed as exits to the afterlife on “Miasma Sky”, an advance single that gave the impression that Baths’ idea of pop was a suicidal version of what the Postal Service do. He can’t prevent himself from being sucked into the ground as the molten, heavy metal banger “Earth Death” creates its own gravitational pull.
Throughout, the songs on Obsidian are physical in a literal sense, mimicking the human motion of the characters described therein. The collation of disparate layers on “Worsening” is simply astonishing, so many parts going in gawky, arrhythmic directions to form a fearsome, fluid whole. The illicit love affair on “Ironworks” moves to a limpid Satie-like piano figure of incapacitating beauty, containing all the sadness, longing, and tenderness the two feel for each other. Meanwhile, the stunning breadth of Obsidian becomes apparent as “Incompatible” skulks forward, non-quantized rhythms emphasizing the fumbled communication and resentments of an ice-cold relationship.
The physicality and darkness aren’t just borne out of a 24-year-old’s first brush with death. Obsidian is in some aspect a “grown up” record in that the characters find themselves in adult situations. But they aren’t mature by any means. In fact, the sexual conduct is fueled by as much nihilism as the apocalyptic conjuring. This is really where Obsidian feels less like a typical artistic “leap” than a bold leap of faith. Vocally, Wisenfeld was a bit player on Cerulean, and often would whisper sweet little love notes: “Please tell me you need me,” “I still smell you, distance aside.” On “Ironworks,” he likens himself to “Sweet swine/ In Victorian doorways/ In tempestuous foreplay,” and that’s as cute as things get.
Otherwise, it’s brutal stuff: anonymous sex is pursued and consummated in a manner as merciless and cold as the mechanical animal beat of “No Eyes”: “It is not a matter of if you mean it/ But it is only a matter of come and fuck me.” Even more unsettling is “Incompatible”, which is of a piece with “No Eyes”, the same poisonous self-seeking and carnal misconduct brought much closer to home. Wiesenfeld deftly sets the scene by utilizing the connotations embedded in the unflattering aspects of cohabitation– a shared toilet seat, an unmade bed with “covers in divisive heaps.” From there on out, he plays a manipulative, abusive, loveless lover where the sexual demands (“Nights you roll over and introduce yourself/ Nurse this erection back to full health”) are somehow less cruel than the gutwrenching asides you might hear at the dinner table: “You don’t do anything with your life /I could prod your hurt all night.” While the narrator admits, “I was never poetic and I was never kind,” only half rings true for Wiesenfeld.
These wouldn’t be shocking lyrics within the catalogs of Xiu Xiu or Perfume Genius, who, if not peers, are certainly precedents for the immersive, ornate, and homoerotic songwriting Baths engages in here. But provocation is a main goal for Jamie Stewart and Mike Hadreas, who maintain deadly serious and combative personae on and off-record; they push buttons and boundaries, but in doing so, they allow their work and its subject matter to be considered “outsider art,” easily spotted and easily avoided. Though Wiesenfeld is very open and candid about his sexuality, the predominant image he’s cast is that of a constantly smiling, muttonchopped young man who gushes about anime and Skyrim on Twitter. In that sense, the gregarious and genial Wiesenfeld has created a more subversive work by getting uncomfortably close to pop, confronting closed minds with what they don’t want to believe– that the supposedly impure or deviant behavior described in “No Eyes” or “Incompatible” or “Ironworks” isn’t relegated to any race, class, gender, or sexual orientation, that it can’t be simply ignored or pinned on the outwardly misanthropic. Whether it’s repressed or engaged with as powerfully as it is on Obsidian, the dark matter lives inside all of us. If you hear Obsidian and think, “I didn’t know he had it in him,” what sticks is how he makes you wonder if you have “it” in you as well.
Source Article from http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/18065-baths-obsidian/