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White Noise: Baths – Cerulean

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Baths – Cerulean

I first heard of Baths when I saw his excellent remix of Gold Panda's Marriage, and looking him up I found out he was signed to the experimental hip-hop label (and one of my personal favourites), anticon. But what was this, Hip-Hop instrumental with fluttery vocals? Granted, not all of anticon's projects are strictly Hip-Hop but the general style of lyricism and aesthetic is firmly grounded in that area. So I was pretty suspicious playing this album for the first time.

From the very first play, I could see I was on to something special. Firstly, the anticon idea was slightly mis-directed. Although Baths shows strong influences of Hip-Hop in his beats, his general sound has much more in common with the L.A. Beats movement exploding in California at the moment, setting him in the illustrious company of artists like Flying Lotus, Nosaj Thing and Teebs.
The first thing you notice about the album is the strange collision between his voice, fluttering between highs and lows, and the hard-hitting beats laced through each of those tracks. This is music to be played loud and moved to. I was most wowed on my first listen by his lead single, Maximalist, which stutters along with tumbling synths and frequent drops introduced by perfectly implemented vocal samples, even including a cheeky self-referential woman's voice saying “It takes a lot of courage to go out there and radiate your essence” preceding the hardest and most satisfying drop of the whole track. And if his music is any one thing, it's satisfying: the crunchy beats are mixed with his excellent sensibility of when to change up the track, introducing samples ranging from the melancholy piano of to the children's voices in album highlight Aminals.

He marries a constantly shifting, whirling synth arrangement to scientist-precise beats and it's all carried off superbly. The overall effect of listening through this album could be likened to sitting in one of the best sounding tumble-dryers in the world. At some points the sheer breadth of his percussion textures are enough to drive a whole track on their own. Some of the best tracks are definitely the more upbeat ones. Hall sounds all over the place until it settles into a head-bobbing throb shot through with his squeaky vocals. My personal favourite is Indoorsy with its stuttery machine-gun beat and layers of synths that build and build until it explodes into a dancey anthem for shut-ins everywhere, with lyrics like “It's a breezy, beautiful day / the birds and girls and their weightless ways...so I pull my curtains closed...and sleep and stir in bed til it ends”.

Yet the thing that elevates this album to excellence is its sheer consistency. The more upbeat tracks are indeed excellent, and while a few tracks miss the mark slightly (Rain Smell doesn't quite live up to its chilled vibe as well as Rafting Starlit Everglades), he manages to inject a surprising amount of calm and emotion into such a beat-heavy album. His call out “Tell me you need me” in Plea has a real straining sorrow to it, and the refrain to down-tempo album closer Departure; “Smile for me if you can / I want to have that in my head” is heartbreaking if you're in the mood to really listen.

Cerulean is an absolutely stunning first album, showing a mastery and range rare in debut LPs. If you give it time, I guarantee you will keep coming back for more.


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