Album Review: Baths – Pop Music / False B-Sides

By on Tuesday, 30th August 2011 at 2:00 pm
 

Anyone who got bored by the Flaming Lips‘ somewhat style-over-substance set on the opening night of this year’s Primavera Sound festival, and wandered off looking for something less indulgent, may have encountered Baths (aka 21-year-old Los Angelean Will Wiesenfeld) tearing the Pitchfork stage to shreds as the false dawn broke over the Mediterranean. An archetypal American college geek attired in terrible shorts, Baths nonetheless unleashed track after track of crunching, stuttering beats and subterranean, undulating bass, sauced with impenetrable vocals and swirling electronica. Just the ticket to keep the 5 am fatigue at bay.

‘Pop Music/False B-Sides’, as the name implies, is a collection of previously gig-only rarities, a stop-gap follow-up to the lauded ‘Cerulean’ debut. At its best, ‘Pop Music/False B-Sides’ can be described as more of the same, and when the same is eclectic, powerful electronica, couched in up-to-the-second production values but with classic songwriting touches, there’s no cause for complaint. With more space, and less need to impress with intensity than the live show, the material here has space to breathe, with touching, discernible vocal refrains and delicate instrumental touches, with even some acoustic instruments to broaden the palette. But never far away is the threat of Baths’ stock-in-trade jumpy, cut-up, pummelling beats.

However, the record can’t shake the impression that it comprises material not really up to being part of the majestic ‘Cerulean’. There’s a restriction of scope that falls short of Baths’ best; the arrangements are at times too linear to maintain interest across 3 or 4 minutes. The production values are unconvincing at times: it can sound as if it was made in a young man’s bedroom computer, which in most likelihood it was. Most songs are built around pumping compression artefacts (where the volume of the whole track is momentarily suppressed to moderate the volume of individual elements like bass kicks), which in any other context would be an unacceptable production mistake, but here are a deliberate part of the sound. This in itself isn’t a problem, but such is the extent of the effect’s use, it quickly becomes tiring to listen to.

There are some gems here, notably the stuttering ‘Flux’, with its seemingly random sound fragments coalescing in squelchy triumph, and the opening ‘Pop Song’, which in an alternative reality could be the sort of thing that troubles the charts instead of the dross we have in this world. Otherwise, if you’re not familiar with Baths but want to check him out, the obvious starting place is ‘Cerulean’, which is a proper album and a rewarding listen. If you loved ‘Cerulean’, certainly there’s plenty here to tide you over until the next album proper. And if you buy it, Wiesenfeld might be able to afford some nicer shorts.

6/10

Baths’ ‘Pop Music / False B-Sides’ album is out now on Anticon.

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