Dance Hall Correspondence

July 23, 2010 at 3:02 pm (Music)

Baths: Cerulean

This is an album that feels out of place, or at the very least, like it’s traveling. The beats bang with a composed wonk, the bass rattles in the mid to low end range that keeps hip hop heads bumping, and then an alto voice takes over the mic and passionately sings love songs.

If the aesthetic of the album seems mutually exclusive, it only gets worse when trying to describe its tone. With lush synthesizers, Will is eager to take glitch turns throughout the album. This, combined with the persistently skittering percussion and spacey vocal harmonies, sustains the album’s two most persistent tones of elation and somber, ones that it often achieves simultaneously.

Then there’s the other kind of odd part about the album. For all intents and purposes, besides the voice, it sounds mostly like the scene from which it came: contemporary LA downtempo, similar to the music that flying Lotus would make when he isn’t throwing laser squiggles over syncopated breakbeats. While other production voices are emerging from that mix, Baths remains the most distinct outsider to the scene, reveling in its rhythms but trumpeting the human voice as its most powerful instrument over the drum machine.

So yes, it is an album of melodramatic love songs, but, more often than not, it approaches love in an abstract, oblique way. Will remaining expressive with language whether lyricizing his thoughts, or sampling them from others. Just look at Maximalist, and its few choice words tossed into the mix’s negative space: “It really takes some work to radiate your essence” mirrors the commitment and travail that Will associates with love in the songs “You’re My Excuse to Travel” and “<3”. The same childish sentiment of waiting to see an ocean in “Seaside Town” (a sample from Kiki’s Delivery Service) is amplified by the simple major chords and field recordings.

More than anything, this is an album that uses language, not as the star of the album, (If you’re looking for the star qualities of the album, it’s the wonky beats and the warm chillwave production punctuated by glitches), but as more of a directing voice. The child comments during “Seaside Town” about finding natural beauty direct the song towards a much more and less anxious instrumental. The human voice comments on the music, instead of directs it, as a singer would. This relationship to the sound kind of speaks to how the music began as well. Simply put, Will was inspired by the sounds of contemporary LA after playing a show opening for Flying Lotus, and this album results from “[needing] to be able to move that many people completely on my own”, as he stated for XL8R.

While on record, Baths may seem more like a producer of dance music, seeing him live is a different matter entirely. Armed with only an ableton controller and a mic, he spends just as much time singing as he does effecting and cuing loops. More than anything, live, he comes across as a singer/DJ instead of a singer/songwriter, using the DJ effects to ground his songs of mood, but more often stealing the show by grabbing the mic, and singing with an expressivity closer to a diva than anything else.

And speaking of the expressiveness of vocals in a scene very content to keep their music mute and moody, this album has a low fidelity very different from its contemporaries. Whereas Perfume Genius might latch a listener into the performance by keeping the sounds of his feet tapping a piano’s keys into the mix, this album does not feature the clicks of Will’s drum machine or Ableton controller. No, it’s the reverberations of the bass and piano across the room that you’ll hear on this album, cramped reverb and echo illustrating the music as coming from an old speaker rattling from overuse. This is music attempting to give an impression of already having been played, of already being a memory from forgotten speakers when you still don’t know how the bridge is going to come in.

This relates quite similarly to the omnipresent tape and vinyl hiss and textures throughout Flying Lotus’ work. Whereas that artist would often compose electronic freak-outs that fooled the listener into thinking they were samples, this album tries to come across as an old favorite, which makes all its quirks, the “baby love your, aww shit” adlib at the beginning of “Lovely Bloodflow”, even a more charming treat for the second listen.

More than a memory, and more than a dance album, though, this is a love album. Besides the lyrics always longing for someone, even its music is made with such clear affection and hard work at trying to reconcile with another style. Will’s music as [post-foetus] more matches everything except the electronic beats underneath of Baths. There’s very stylistic electronic processing of organic instruments, dusty and spacey synths, and even vocal samples tossed into a moody, atmospheric mix.

With such a clear style developed that was just integrated with another style that Will chanced upon, the act of blending two disparate styles together starts to have its own thematic thrust, as quite clearly, the effect of the LA beat scene on the artist is rendered in such dramatic, clear fashion. So, the question then becomes, is this a crossover album for the LA beat scene and lo-fi indy folk? Nah. It’s still very idiosyncratic and complex. More than a public crossover of styles, it’s a private love letter, complex, composed, and affectionate.

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