THE CONTRAST THEOREM
Will Wiesenfeld’s debut Cerulean had beauty to its sadness, which is exemplified best on the ‘Lovely Bloodflow’, a magnum opus that validated the concept of a bedroom musician in its unwavering intimacy. His recently released sophomore Obsidian doesn’t negate the soundscape he had established on that album, however the coy, beautiful words are replaced with stark morbidity. This is an album that had the lines “Birth was like a fat black tongue, dripping tar and dung and dye, slowly into my shivering eyes,” sung on its opening number ‘Worsening’ after all. Due to the subject matter(s), it’s tempting to say this is Will’s grown up record, but closer inspection and press material say Obsidian is a response to the recent turn of events in his life.
Will’s bout with E. coli, which left him lethargic and apathetic towards life, and the performance ennui cumulated from playing the same songs over and over again have led to a record that is more premeditated and revealing. The sound is decidedly Baths – ‘Miasma Sky’ is an upbeat, glitchy 8-bit pop tune for example – but the positivity he revealed on the previous album is swallowed by cruel despondence. He was never shy about his sexuality, Cerulean was homoerotic, but he never presented gay love as what is a cliché in heteronormative relationships; f*cked up. Not so much here, on ‘Incompatible’ Will sung that that his lover and he only shared toilet seats before chastising him with “You don’t do anything with your life /I could prod your hurt all night.” The track after that channels Abel Tesfaye’s revelry in sad, meaningless tryst; ““It is not a matter of if you mean it, but it is only a matter of come and f*ck me.”
While not terribly original, Will has the advantage of context. This is a man whose mutton chopped mug is always seen smiling, whose Twitter feed is filled with nerdy talk, whose predisposition seem normative, so to hear him turn the sound of Cerulean into Postal Service-influenced suicidal pop is jarring. Then there’s the music itself, which as mentioned isn’t far removed from the previous album, meaning they don’t sound dark if you ignore the words. The experience of Obsidian, then, is that of contrasts and as much as some refuse to acknowledge it; the artiste makes the music as much as the music makes the artiste. We’d imagine our experience listening to the album wouldn’t be as effective had we not known about Will Wiesenfeld beyond being the man behind Baths.
As much as the focal point of Obsidian is its decidedly darker content, the best track is one that recalls Cerulean the best, ‘Phaedra’, which nevertheless features the line “I could prod your hurt all night,” (sung more in the tone of ‘Lovely Bloodflow’) despite the cloying beat. This fact is revelatory of the rest of the album, there’s something to it that hindered our enjoyment. Upon reading more on the process of making the album, we knew what it was – Will’s propensity for crafting songs based on words he had found. While the emotional truthfulness is appreciated, phrases like “I am sweet swine, in Victorian doorways, in tempestuous foreplay,” are embarrassing in their sixth grader goth-level poetry.
Still, Obsidian is a potent electronic album that continued its predecessor’s approach to the genre. Bellowing synths, vocoder-affected falsettos, crackling beats, and hifi-leaning lofi touches all make for an organic record that isn’t afraid to explore subject matters unlike that of Perfume Genius’ or Xiu Xiu’s. We can’t speak for the artiste, but we just wish it were less try hard than as it is now.
LISTEN TO: ‘Phaedra’
IF YOU LIKE THIS YOU’LL DIG: Gold Panda
2. Miasma Sky
6. No Eyes
8. No Past Lives
9. Earth Death