Monday, August 9, 2010

Cerulean - Baths


Anticon Records.

SCQ Rating: 91%

Remember that scene in The Matrix when Agent Smith relates the progression of humanity to the spread of a disease? That’s essentially how listeners have fanned the flames of chill-wave, confusing some euphoric bedroom-pop producers with literally any lone musician who composes on a laptop. Seriously, when you look back through the years at the rise of home-listening electronica, wasn’t chill-wave already brewing? Shit, does this make Ulrich Schnauss a pioneer in more ways than one? I’m no chill-wave hater; the slang-genre’s prolific blur of new talent by-the-hour can be immersing, but I’m offended by how quickly it appropriates a singular talent like Baths and groups the young beats-smith into its trendy, recycled army.

Chill-wave may not be self-aware (yet…) so, in the meantime, I’ll seek to protect Cerulean, a strikingly distinct collection of beatific sentiments, from falling in with such homogenous company. Behind the Baths name is Will Wiesenfeld, an until-recently unknown songwriter barely into his twenties, who has utilized the crossover appeal of Four Tet with organic electronics positively dripping into hip-hop foundations. In fact, the great divide between these two artists actually works in Wiesenfeld’s favour; whereas Kieran Hebden’s deftly merged styles articulate Four Tet’s instrumentals, Wiesenfeld emotes through the dual talents of poignant arrangements and a naturally gifted singing voice. Although listening for the interaction between human and electronic instruments unlocks half the potency of Cerulean, we’re most awe-struck when both are given space to breathe on a single track (as with ‘♥’ , which expands a rich piano-loop into lovelorn lyrical verses).

Despite Cerulean often packaging its vulnerability into extroverted beats (‘Lovely Bloodflow’) or stylishly layered vocals (‘You’re My Excuse to Travel’), its essence lies in delicate balladry that results in low-key highlights like ‘Rain Smell’ and ‘Departure’. Unguarded sentimentality has a bad rep in indie-circles, almost certainly as a knee-jerk reaction to the radio-success schmaltz typically pulls off, so it’s a rare achievement that Baths communicates longing with such fresh yet accessible determination. Nothing about this feels fleeting or of-the-moment, marooned to blogger merits or aesthetic scenes. Compulsory listening from front-to-back, Cerulean is undoubtedly one of the year’s best records.

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