Anticon. · November 17, 2017
The music of Baths is characterized by careful, quirkily layered production that combines wonky rhythms, dreamy synths and violas, and cascades of odd noises like pen clicks and rustling blankets. The newest iteration of this sound adds a new wrinkle: In the spirit of intentionally making a more positive album, Wiesenfeld has drawn inspiration from the comics, video games, and anime that give him solace in difficult times. This not to say that he’s gone full Nintendo-core on us, or that his lyrics now consist entirely of erotic anime fan-fiction, so calm down, people. Things do get a little Mario 64 in ‘Superstructure’ and the manic squall of ‘Adam Copies,’ but it’s all done in a tasteful way. Wiesenfeld is recreating a mindset of happiness more than the actual experiences that bring it on. If anything, drawing on these diverse influences has made the music more luxurious and lovely than ever before.
The album has some immediate standouts, and the singles in particular are some of the catchiest tracks that Baths has ever produced. ‘Extrasolar’ is a miraculous piece of production, pitting delicate nebulas of piano and strings against a gristly, syncopated rhythm section, but it’s Wiesenfeld’s singing that really puts the whole thing into orbit. He has an immediately recognizable voice with an incredible range, and the way he leaps from a dry tenor to quavering high notes that could shatter glass is impressive to say the least. When he puts that voice to work on a killer hook like the chorus of ‘Out,’ it reaps some real results. You want evidence? How about the fact that that very chorus has been stuck in my head 24/7 for about two weeks now: “Come fail at love / And celebrate your stupid fate / Walls lined in every color / Of every iris of every lover.” His lyrics really clinch the deal, too, toeing the threshold between escape and imprisonment with poetic grace. It’s true that Romaplasm is a more hopeful affair than Obsidian, but it never lets you forget the threat of despair. The push and pull between a difficult past and a bright future is summed up perfectly in one line from ‘Abscond’: “You’re the ire of your father and the other half of me.”
Which brings us to another layer in the album’s lyricism. A lot of Romaplasm is about love, and more specifically, queer love. If you hadn’t noticed (which I doubt, if you’ve listened to Baths before), Will Wiesenfeld is gay with a capital G, and he channels that piece of his identity into a lot of heartfelt prose. ‘Human Bog,’ one of the strongest tracks on the album by far, talks about the isolation of growing up queer in a world with rigid expectations of what people should be. “Everyone alive live fuller lives than me,” Wiesenfeld wails, as he despairs that he can only ever be “queer in a way that works” for other people. Leave all these sentiments to stew in a mire of gooey synths and glitchy percussion, and you come out with something really remarkable.
In an album mostly populated with brightness and pep, it’s those quieter, more straight-faced moments that have the most impact. They aren’t very common, and as a result, the album is consistent almost to a fault. The brighter chord progressions and melodies can tend to bleed into one another, which makes welcome surprises of songs like ‘Wilt.’ That track was one of my favorites on the album, mostly because it stood out so much from the other songs, with tangled threads of piano notes and croaking vocal snippets swirling like leaves on an autumn breeze.
However consistent it may sound at first glance, every song on Romaplasm has a forest of little surprises buried in it. It only gets better with each listen, as you start to become familiar with each little glitch and discover new sonic surprises that had been staring you in the face the whole time. Even if you’re not much of a video game fan, even if you don’t relate to the queer experience, and even if you have no idea what “careful, quirkily layered production” is supposed to mean, Romaplasm is well worth a listen or four. Give it a try!