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Baths
Romaplasm The Quietus , December 20th, 2017 17:39

Will Wiesenfeld finds himself more contemplative than reflective, with some of the loveliest excursions Baths have taken to date. By Matthew Neale

The capitulations of the body form the basis for every Baths record, a foreign field eternally compromised by grand massacres and little deaths. At the time of Will Wiesenfeld’s last outing, the dark heaven that was 2013’s Obsidian, his body had just begun to recover from its loudest rejection yet: a fierce bout of E. coli that left the artist barely able to eat or sleep for any length of time. That album, like Sufjan Stevens’ Age of Adz two years prior, was less a joyous celebration of new health than a post-mortem at the body’s point of failure. This was billed in interviews as Baths’ “weird version of a pop record” at the time which, even as a qualifying statement, may have been a stretch; its most urgent highlight (‘No Eyes’) found the artist pleading to be fucked, with or without sincerity. On Romaplasm, Wiesenfeld seems to have finally made something that could pass as a pop record, exuberant in both its content and execution.

Certainly its opening trio of songs could each feasibly muscle their way onto a daytime radio playlist. First single ‘Yeoman’ opens the album, its sad-brass intro quickly dissolving into a skittering, electronic love song, replete with moments of surprisingly au courant pop tropes. When the beat briefly drops out before the first chorus it’s pure bubblegum, the listener spiralling into an alternate dimension where Owl City’s Adam Young discovered Xiu Xiu and methamphetamines instead of The Postal Service. “Would you show me green,” Wiesenfeld sings, “and would you show me blue?” For the vast majority of its duration, Baths’ third album is verdant with hope.

There’s a spring clean taking place here. ‘Extrasolar’ is one the artist has taken to date, a positively wholesome reflection on “all the junk I’ve jettisoned” that appears to find Baths somewhat carefree, at least momentarily. When the album does eventually drift into shades of blue, it doesn’t feel jarring; happy or sad, Romaplasm consistently sounds more contemplative than frustrated this time out. ‘Human Bog’ is a graceful portrait of the artist reflecting on the performative elements of his own identity, and even as he sings “I’m queer in a way that’s failed me,” it feels oddly constructive. Indeed, in a year that artists like Perfume Genius have expressed an explicit desire to transcend the body, Wiesenfeld seems to have made room for small instances of joy. “I’m not a big fan of my body and I would like to leave it,” Mike Hadreas stated earlier in the year, as much in relation to his struggle with Crohn’s disease as conversations about sexuality and gender. Both artists have traditionally rallied against the body and its disappointments; both are presenting that conflict in fascinating and intelligent ways in 2017. But while No Shape deals in outright posthumanism – understandably informed by Hadreas’ more chronic physical condition – Romaplasm seeks to make truces. “I beg you, mine good ore from me,” Wiesenfeld sings on ‘Coitus’, and while the song’s sexual connotations are implicit, there’s a heartbreaking honesty in the line’s delivery: the belief in self-worth, an invocation to the possibilities of joy.

More than anything, it sounds like he’s having fun. Tracks like ‘I Form’ showcase a more impressive falsetto than usual, set to catchier melodies. The album closes on ‘Broadback’, and it’s instructive that Wiesenfeld screaming “I don’t want you to die” feels so euphoric. At this point, it barely matters whether the song – the whole record, even – was intended as an affirmation of the spirit or a eulogy for a dying friend. Its effect is overwhelmingly the former, and if we perhaps read more green into a text that is abundantly blue, the result is no less vibrant.

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