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Baths – Oval Space, London 22/11/13

December 2, 2013

Originally posted on the 405

PopMusic2

“The difference between sex and death is that with death you can do it alone and no one is going to make fun of you.” Woody Allen

Now I don’t know 24-year-old Will Wiesenfeld personally, but judging from his musical output to date under the moniker of Baths and particularly 2013 LP Obsidian, I think it’s a quote he may appreciate.

Much has been written of Obsidian‘s deep embrace of the dark both in terms of its stylistic approach by ways of ominous melodies/heavier sound, but also the themes dealt with in the album; especially once contrasted with debut LP Cerulean that was a whimsical breath of fresh technicolor summer’s air (cerulean the colour of a light blue sky), immersed in optimism and glistening electronics. A go to album to reset the mind to happy mode, and an album we made out favourite of 2010.

So with two dichotomous bodies of work at his disposal, the question is what to expect from a live show from Baths?

Oval Space is one of the newer venues on the London gig circuit – though sadly not actually in Oval as I had originally thought. ‘Take a hike South London, Hackney definitely is in need of more venues’ said no-one, ever. Selfish flippancy aside it’s actually a welcome edition – due to the sui generis location where you climb the warehouse stairs overlooking an industrial landscape featuring towering gas works, and also due to the quality of the sound system that is evident as soon as Baths begins.

Album opener ‘Worsening’ also opens tonight and is a doleful hypnagogic number to ease the annoyingly loquacious London-crowd in, though it’s ‘Miasma Sky’ where the tone and salubrious intent is announced. The step up in vocals by Will from Cerulean to Obsidian is marked – no longer hiding behind layered electronics and whispered, playful thoughts, it’s now more reminiscent of his first project [Post-foetus] prior to the creation of Baths. And the step-up from Obsidian to Obsidian live is pronounced – nailing the high notes during ‘Miasma Sky’ as the vocals are really brought to the front; I’d never quite given him enough credit for the power of his voice but it’s really quite spectacular, confident and powerful here.

An added layer to this is the paradoxical content of lyrics versus their exquisite delivery, as underlined in possible highlight of the gig ‘No Eyes’. It’s proper earthy, seedy shit (as are other tracks too) – all death, pain and relatively explicit homoerotic sexual references. “And it is not a matter of / If you mean it / But it is only a matter of / Come and fuck me” – with the “Come and fuck me part” screamed to a blood-curdling level during the final chorus part – and what’s even more great/surreal is that it’s the most shouted out lyric amongst the crowd also. Think Xiu Xiu, think Xiu Xiu in ‘Fabulous Muscles’: “Cremate me after you cum on my lips / Honey boy place my ashes in a vase beneath your workout bench / No romance, no sexiness” and you have yourself a parallel.

This personifies the character of Obsidian so well, a really trenchant honesty in relationships – like the uncompromising (and often uncomfortable) film Blue Valentine, alongside frequent references to death; in part aided by a spell of 2/3 months before recording the album where Will was hit with a debilitating bout with E. coli. However it’s all very much in the umbrella of pop. Sure it’s fucked-up subversive pop music for an inquisitive, twisted and benevolent mind, but it’s still stuff to have fun to and dance about with.

Will is joined onstage by Azeda Booth member Morgan Greenwood where they’re both surrounded by a myriad of electronic equipment to create those rich layered textures, and for two people they make a helluva racket. Will himself is a super infectious character, the audience enthralled to his self-deprecating, semi-ramshackled camp charms (“I’ve played a lot of shows, but you are by far the most good-looking I’ve seen London. I mean Wow!”). Pretty adorable stuff all round. There are some sound issues half-way through with a couple of elongated pauses between fiddling – “We’re having some problems, but the cool tech shit we’re trying to do will be worth the wait.” And he’s right, before promising “We’re about to get a lot louder” and again he’s not lying.

Devastating and emphatic number ‘Earth Death’ benefits from this “cool tech shit” treatment coupled with added oomph, a pop-rock electronic bricolage of nose with an industrial edge as Will darkly repeats “Come kill me / I seem so little.” For those that have seen Baths live you’ll know of another grimly titled track ‘Ocean Death’ – though for me this is news and therefore a delightful surprise. It’s a track absent on any Baths release that releases a driving, eviscerating tribal pattern while Will pumps out ‘Ooo laah laaas’ in a hypnotic falsetto. And again we’re treated to macabre lyrics as he screams “Bury the body in the graveyard” over and over. A handful of material from his debut also gets played such as ‘Lovely Bloodflow’ and sits alongside the new comfortably despite their disparate tones, in a glorious act of mutualism as they co-exist – and very much benefit – from being around each other.

While I’ve discussed much in regards to the atrophic nature of the content and sound of the evening, often centring around sex and death, one point overlooking everything is crucial: this is simply really fun and playful. Acknowledging the dark but revelling in its expense, like our Woody Allen quote. A healthy and trim Will is enjoying himself on stage, chatting with the crowd, self-assured in himself and his work. Obsidian follows these dark themes from the nebulous reaches of his mind, but live tonight the mood is one of a joyous act of convalescence.

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