Will Wiesenfeld's first album as Baths, Cerulean, was lovely if sometimes a bit vague, relying more on his way with dreamy sounds than songwriting. However, both are in full force on Obsidian, a set of songs that are much darker but also much catchier than his debut. They're also a lot more personal, to the point of being uncomfortably -- yet fascinatingly -- direct: Wiesenfeld's lyrics are riddled with disturbing questions and confessions that he tosses off almost casually. "Where is God when you hate him most?," he demands on "Worsening," one of the first clues that this album is going to be much rougher sailing than Cerulean; on "Phaedra," he states "It is you who made me want to kill myself" over one of the album's most perversely catchy melodies. Indeed, Wiesenfeld's developments as a producer and arranger are just as significant as his songwriting strides, and his departure from Cerulean's softer approach into this more abrasive, polarized territory feels almost like his music fell out of the clouds. Even the prettiest songs, such as "No Past Lives," which contrasts waves of lush electronics and beats with sprightly piano, and "Ironworks," which is decorated with almost frilly strings, have a crisper edge than anything on Wiesenfeld's debut. More often than not, Obsidian's coy and delicate moments collide with brash, blunt sounds and words like ideals meeting reality, and the mix of need and anger on the album's darkest moments is shockingly raw. "This isn't the adulthood I thought I wrote," Wiesenfeld wails on "No Eyes," where crushing beats don't entirely trample the singsong melody, but add a sickening impact when they fall; "Incompatible" is as intimate and troubling as its title suggests, revolving around sex, failure, and (self-) loathing and setting lyrics like "I could prod your hurt all night" to damaged chamber pop. Much of Obsidian was inspired by an illness Wiesenfeld was dealing with while writing these songs, and the shadow of mortality hangs over many of these songs, most obviously on "Earth Death" and the pretty closing track, "Inter." Yet even the most fragile moments here are too present to be merely ethereal, one of the many feats Wiesenfeld pulls off on these complicated and undeniably catchy songs. Obsidian could have easily been too indulgent or morose, but instead it's soul-baring in ways that feel fresh. A headlong dive into the uncomfortable territory where vital art is made, this album takes all of Baths' skills to a new level.
by Heather Phares