ALBUM: Ocean Death EP
Los Angeles electronica musician, Will Wiesenfield AKA Baths, has returned with a new five-track release that dwells on the more somber temperaments of his LA beats/synth-pop infusion. The EP, Ocean Death, constitutes Bath’s third proper release for indie hip-hop label Anticon, and vaguely follows in the darker nature that inspired his sophomoric Obsidian LP last year. But whilst Obsidian delivers a capricious rendering of suicidal thought, this effort only hints at those bleak emotions through the relatively stable treatment of everyday topics like romance, ephemerality, and day-dreamed introspection. Consequently, Ocean Death is grounded in a way that his previous works shy away from, as Wiesenfield seems less distracted by the sonic experimentation that his Low End Theory peers might favor. Certainly, the EP stands a far cry from the ecstatic expressions of his 2010 debut album, Cerulean (though apparently Ocean Death’s title track was initially conceived of in that year).
Therefore, Baths eschews prismatic imagery for duller hues in Ocean Death. Yet, moderation is not equivalent to lack of detail and, if anything, the EP primarily succeeds due to this restraint: constructing breathtakingly fragile moments in some precarious balancing act. Working in slow-motion graphics, the tracks zoom in on each element in high-definition, and each movement seems more pivotal and momentous than at real-life speeds. Notably, Ocean Death steps back from Bath’s usual sensory-overload, and the EP avoids the color-muddling and monochromic vibrancy that his prior works sometimes fall prey to. This overall adjustment in tone owes much to his engagement with aqueous themes, which surfaces as sonic mimicry (such as the rainy patter of hi-hats in “Voyeur”, or the EP’s panning voices that simulate sound-dislocation in liquid); but also dictates the albums fluid dynamics, that moves and builds with a sluggish tidal weight.
Of course, cinematics can be cheap without proper handling, but Wiesenfield’s productions are, as usual, impeccable. He manages to keep the EP’s sounds crisp and tactile, even as he allows chaos to creep in through digital mishaps and seemingly-lazy vocal overlaying. In this way, Ocean Death feels organic, neither too mechanical in quality, nor rigidly locked to a temporal grid like so many other electronically-produced songs. For instance, reverberant fretboard swipes and found objects provide “Fade White” with a lush soundscape, whilst the digital sound-gallery in “Yawn” is a gorgeous use of electronics to barrage the senses. Though Baths fans may be used to a blurred line between digital production and organic sounds, Ocean Death proves again that the LA producer straddles that division better than most. Partially, this is a result of the live-band instrumentation, such as guitars and acoustic percussion, that the EP is based around; but still, Wiesenfield knits digital sounds and live-recording together so seamlessly that the difference between the two is not always discernable.
The main focus, however, will always be Baths’ falsetto, quivering with a sort of intimate adolescence. Due to its specific timbre, his vocals cannot help but lighten the mood, and indeed, many of the tracks on Ocean Death develop from brooding murmurs to epiphanical exclamations through the introduction of his carefree warbles. The lyrics themselves are a bit more forlorn, and deal with romanticized sceneries such as “The sun’s collapse” and oceanic “[Graveyards]”, but Baths has a nonchalance that seems to laugh at this melodrama—even mentioning that he is “a bit of a mope” in the third cut. As a result, his songs read as humble reflections from a curious mind, leading listeners through intimate settings (“Your steady breath when you’re breathing”) to some imperfect resolution (“The world will yawn/ yawn and move on”). Furthermore, their poetic form is well thought-out, and Wiesenfield’s lyrics could almost achieve the same emotionality as ink-on-paper.
The dark-to-light transition can, however, be repetitive, and one can grow desensitized to catharsis when it occurs successively. When everything inevitably becomes pretty, dramatic contours are ineffective and even a bit corny. Baths thus sacrifices unpredictability for professionalism, doing away with the startling haphazardness that made his debut album so unique. The note-choice also suffers from these directorial decisions, safe in diatonic pleasantness but never really challenging the listener. Before, Baths stood in for a sort of tampered synth-pop, with innocent shades filtering through glitches and malfunctions. Yet, somehow in gaining control over this mechanical agenda, Ocean Death fails to completely captivate the listener. Nevertheless, some moments on the EP are absolutely gorgeous, it is simply a shame that Baths could not sustain their splendor the whole way through.
“I think about our love and its lack of meaning”