Baths' calculated and deliberately intrusive sense of rhythm makes Cerulean far from incidental chill-out music.
The love child genre of electronica and shoegaze, endearingly labelled glo-fi, has a large pallet of sound and influence to paint from. The bar is raised considerably by many acts who dabble in it. Witness Washed Out’s fuzzy memory pop-gaze, Delorean’s ethereal rave comedown, and now Baths’ schizophrenic basement beats. What the first two bands strive for is calm and textured atmospheres; the latter doesn’t want to make your life that easy.
Baths (a.k.a. Will Weisenfeld) doesn't believe that the traditionally peaceful glo-fi should necessarily be a totally blissed out experience. Take away the clicks, claps and dinosaur footstep kicks and you’ve got a Brian Eno record. It's the calculated and deliberately intrusive sense of rhythm that makes Cerulean far from incidental chill-out music.
Take the busy burblings of "Maximalist", which is aptly named, considering its impatient pace and frequent starts and stops. Despite all the layers of melody and noise that make up the track, it's ultimately the beat that calls the shots. With each thunderous kick, the rest of the track is side-chained under its colossal instruction. Lovely Bloodflow would be unequivocally lovely if it were not for a construction site disturbing the peace.
Baths also has a taste for dramatics that on occasion he finds too great to suppress beneath his beats. "Hall" sounds like Sigur Rós covering My Bloody Valentine, a joyous melody emerging above a caldera of seething electronics. "You’re My Excuse to Travel"’s celebratory falsetto, primitive piano and catapult snares draw a near impossible line between Thom Yorke and Passion Pit; not so glo.
There is, of course, a risk with being this recklessly trigger-happy with ideas, and sometimes Baths does indeed punch above his weight. The glitchy breakbeats that litter "Animals" serve only to overexcite what is, in fact, one of the album's less interesting soundscapes. "Indoorsy" also seems cluttered with percussion in a way that would make Aphex Twin shrug his shoulders and Radiohead turn up their noses. Baths may generally get away with bombast over subtlety, but the odd overbaked beat and unnecessary additional loop only serve to break up what could be a perfect compromise between the two elements.
Weisenfeld may not quite have his formula down to a tee yet, but luckily, a couple of tracks give us hope that Baths does appreciate the simpler things. The balearic beats of "Rafting Starlit Everglades" let warm strings and distant pianos carry them home. The artist does nothing to hide the sense of beauty and peace in their melodies. The closing track, "Departure", is a Washed Out-esque bluesy serenade played through a transistor radio that owes as much to Cocteau Twins as it does to Boards of Canada. What do you know? Baths isn’t all that tough really.
This is not to say that Baths should strive to be the next Washed Out. Far from it. It’s the sledgehammer rhythm section that makes it what it is: an ambitious electronica act that wants to grab your attention rather than fade into the background. He needn’t try so hard. One beat per track is enough, although we appreciate the generosity.