(Anticon; 2010)

By Lindsay Zoladz | 17 July 2010

Cerulean, the first album from a man who calls himself Baths, has a lot to do with water. Which is evident, well, in that sentence, and in the fact that the record contains songs with titles like “Rain Smell” and “Rafting Starlit Everglades”—and in the fact that these songs sound pretty much exactly how you think they’d sound. They sound like someone upending a rain stick filled with eccentric samples, glitchy tape loops, and frenetic beats. Cerulean moves like water too, coursing like a dirty stream in which all sorts of unexpected detritus—garbage, disembodied voices, toy boats crafted from popsicle sticks and creeping childhood nostalgia—bob just above its murky surface.

In spite of his affinity for oddball pastiche, Baths’ (née Will Wiesenfeld, all of 21) aesthetic is decidedly poppy. If you have ever expressed wishes that artists as disparate as Flying Lotus and Boards of Canada were “more hooky,” well, bless your heart, you might like Cerulean a lot. Wiesenfeld deftly mixes buoyant beats, ambient tracks, and vocal-heavy pop numbers into an album that flows together seamlessly and makes for quite a few pleasant surprises. The quietly hypnotic “Rafting Starlit Everglades” follows “Aminals,” a wide-eyed and bombastic ode to childhood wonder; the Go! Team are somewhere kicking themselves for not getting their hands on these samples first, or just for not writing this song.

Something about Cerulean reminds me of another notable Anticon debut, WHY?‘s Oaklandazulasylum (2003). It’s not so much that these records sound alike—Bath’s aesthetic is much (forgive me) cleaner—but both records exude a similarly personal brand of hyperactivity, an almost ingenuous desire to fill each corner of their respective canvases with every bizarre artifact in their upturned and very linty pockets. Yet, what Yoni Wolf achieves through hyper-articulate wordplay, Wiesenfeld does almost entirely with his mouth shut. The aptly titled “Maximalist” marries chopped-up vocals and corny-on-purpose, Daily Affirmation-style samples (“It takes a lot of courage to go out there and radiate your essence”) to a veritable sunburst of a beat, and the whole crowded affair barrels on in wonderfully harmonious polygamy. 

There are some tracks on which Wiesenfeld takes a more straightforward vocal approach, and those are a mixed bag. “♥” is probably the highpoint of the group; it sounds like a piano ballad that was left for dead on the side of a deserted road and then, when found an indeterminate time later, reconditioned from the inside out. The vocal-centric tracks aren’t all that strong, though, and the choice to sequence the same-y sounding “Indoorsy” and “You’re My Excuse to Travel” around the moody dud “Rain Smell” makes way for a late-album lag from which Cerulean never fully recovers. Wiesenfeld is at his best when he leaves ample room for breath between the more hyperactive material. He seems to have a bit of a fidgety leg (er, maybe, finger) that’s part propellant and part saboteur when it comes to his sense of pacing, which seems, underneath it all, to be pretty keen.

Still, Cerulean as a whole is a fine nugget of electro-pastiche. Baths, unlike the chillest of the chillwave acts to which he will invariably be compared, has a refreshingly erratic pulse, and he’s encapsulated it in a record that’s equally suited for listening in the moody confines of your bedroom as it is a soundtrack to heels clicking busily on the street. So go get out there and radiate your essence, won’t you? Except probably stay away from that dude with the magical rain stick.