Enjoying your endless summer? I know I am. From the sounds of it, 21-year-old Will Wiesenfeld is, too. He’s been a pretty busy guy in the last few years. A native of the San Fernando Valley outside Los Angeles (you know, the place with all the malls and stuff in teen movies), he’s been playing music since the age of 4, has already released four albums as the psuedo-classical [Post-Foetus], and also performs ambient, monotonous ballads as Geotic. His newest outlet, Baths, was started when fellow California IDM/experimental-hip-hop artist Daedelus approached him to play a show with some like-minded knob-tweakers in the big city of angels. Amid this new scene, Baths was born.
If you’re familiar with Daedelus, the aural similarities are impossible to deny. But while the latter’s steam-punk inspired bells and whistles evoke a foggy Victorian London, Baths is all Southern California. Cerulean, Wiesenfeld’s Baths debut, has something in common with the post-Pet Sounds-isms of Panda Bear but is more rooted in electronica and hip-hop than in the choral chants and British invasion that’s informed much of Noah Lennox’s work. I half expect some of these beats to be made from the slaps of skateboards in drained backyard pools. His songs are busy with layers of beeps, blips and hi-hats, which make things bubble and pop in a way that sounds almost Múm-ish but sunnier.
Which is to say, in case you haven’t figured it out by now, that this is very much summer music. Cerulean, for those with a poor color palette, is a sort of deep blue that is usually used to describe the sky, but it works just as well to talk about the deep sea on a clear day. Rest assured that if Wiesenfeld ever makes a music video for any of these tracks, there could be shots of people surfing.
Instead of Daedelus, Baths’s closest sonic forebears seem to be the cut-and-paste, electro-acoustic of Bibio and Boards of Canada, or maybe even the laptop-jazz of Flying Lotus. But while those guys put out records under British electronic titans Warp, Cerulean was released by Bay Area experimental hip-hop collective Anticon, home to Why?, cLOUDDEAD and Odd Nosdam, among others. That distinction is key: Baths is categorized in the outer edges of the hip-hop section of your local music library, not IDM or electronica. And while some of the electronic-centric guys might play more with the blank spaces between sounds, the West Coasters are more prone to pump up the volume and let it ride — a technique that has its merits but also might not hold up as well to close listening as some of Wiesenfeld’s other projects.
And truth be told, the maximalism can get a little grating. We all love a good wall of sound, but too many layers of screeching pitches, blurps and guitar notes, which describes “Hall,” can make me feel unnecessarily anxious and on edge. Evetually, the grand mess comes together into something of a righteous cacophony, but a cacophony nonetheless. This is a collection of songs that build; each track starts with a few layers of competing sounds, some more pleasant than others, until an overwhelming beat and melody emerge somewhere midway through, and by the end everything comes together in an eruption of squeels and blips. The effect would be spiritual if it weren’t so disjointed.
Is it the most original thing in the world? Not really. Are there weak moments where Wiesenfeld’s age and naivete show through? Certainly. Brian Wilson made songs for teenagers in California, too, but this ain’t no Brian Wilson. Still, Cerulean is a very good album. Its highs are high, and you don’t have to be into the rest of Anticon’s nerd-rap nepotism to be into it. It’s a busier version, perhaps, of Fennesz’s Endless Summer — a summer album that’s good at being a summer album, no matter when you listen to it. Sit back and let the sun shine in.