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Baths - Cerulean

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Artist: Baths

Album: Cerulean

Label: Anticon

Review date: Sep. 9, 2010

Before he was a beatmaker, a laptop composer, or a purveyor falsetto’d bedroom pop, Will Wiesenfeld was a classical pianist from ages 4 through 13. He plays other instruments now – guitar, contrabass, viola and all manner of synthesizers to name a few – but the piano must have shaped him particularly. The piano, as it happens, is one of the few instruments where the two hands work independently. The pianist learns to hold multiple, contradictory ideas in his head simultaneously, to execute them separately though often in such a way that they compliment and comment on one another. Cerulean, the first Baths record (though Wiesenfeld has previously recorded as [Post-Foetus]), is full of such intersecting threads, balanced with such precision that you can’t always decide what you’re supposed to be looking at and what’s in the way.

The tension often arises when Wiesenfeld’s lush, flowery melodies coincide with the hard abstraction of rhythm. His beats are slant-wise, not quite square, and prone to plunging forward then hitching back. They are, all by themselves, worth thinking about, at once physically compelling and off-putting. You feel like a surfer trying to stay on top of them. And even if you didn’t want to think about them, you’d have to, because they are presented at a dominant level, as if the piano or guitar is playing in a room down the hall, but the drums are right there next to you.

You view the melodies, then, as if through a barred window, catching little flurries of baroque ornamentation between massive beats. Lush, multi-voiced choral arrangements flitter through “Apologetic Shoulder Blades,” their delicate flourishes slapped and chopped by bottom-heavy percussion. Trilling, flourishing synthesizer bursts from the beat-stomped crevices and spoken word samples of “Maximallist,” as excessively pretty as flowering plum blossoms. The music seems intricate because it’s made up of sharp, diverse pieces, but these pieces themselves are simple, repetitive, fractal. It’s all in the way they bounce off each other.

Cerulean begins in abstraction and takes a turn, about midway through, toward more accessible, melody-centered ideas. “♥” starts in a shower of piano notes, oscillating, serene, a sign of the artist’s long classical training. Its accidental-strewn vocal line takes precedence over pumping drums, the tail end of phrases flowering into extravagant, not-quite-human oscillations of tone. A cacophony of noises ushers in “Hall,” some vocal, some electronic, some guitar-derived, yet they resolve into a rambling, shuffling, amiable sort of beat, not too far from Beta Band territory.

Cerulean finishes in a show of strength, its internal complications resolving into sheer joyful forward motion in “Indoorsy” and “Plea.” Here, there’s no question which melodic line to follow. You may even find yourself humming along. So, while the most interesting songs on Cerulean are the ones where the components fight with each other, the most memorable and accessible ones are those that achieve some kind of unity. Just because you can hold two or three songs in your head at once doesn’t make it a good idea…or at least not all the time.

By Jennifer Kelly

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