Baths Romaplasm

[Anticon; 2017]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: electronica, edm, glitch, idm
Others: Matmos, Aphex Twin

It’s poptimism for intelligent dance cynics. After the moribund dejection of 2013’s Obsidian, Baths’s Will Wiesenfeld turns a new leaf in the form of fidgeting virility here on Romaplasm. A record wherein the glitching dynamo transmutes his disillusionment following a ruinous bout with E. coli into eccentric exultations and plaints, Romaplasm sees Wiesenfeld embracing computer-generated ebullience while maintaining an understandably hesitant air about him.

Romaplasm teems with references to the singer’s diffidence, some more overt than others (“Often meek to the nth degree”), but Wiesenfeld’s reticence never precludes him from attaining happiness. The album’s opener “Yeoman” tracks its narrator’s mounting joy at the prospect of walking aimlessly aboard a spacecraft with its captain in an unbridled tryst akin to Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon.” Even when voicing a jeremiad on “Human Bog,” in which Will airs his frustrations about compromising himself for the sake of romance (“I’m queer in a way that works for you,” “I’m queer in a way that’s failed me”), Wiesenfeld counterbalances this perturbation with the vim of follow-up track “Adam Copies:” “Become as fire, eat the woods, eat the dark and show where I stood.” For Will, lamentation often gives way to intrepidness on Romaplasm.

Highly personal, but sensationalistic by turns, Wiesenfeld’s lyrics serve as both his greatest strength and his greatest weakness. With lines like “I let the fulcrum buckle under me/ Deny my inhibitions/ And find modernity” from “Superstructure,” there’s a clear sense of indignation, but the sentiment never devolves into a maudlin whine by virtue of the double-tracked austerity in his vocals. However, on the couplet from “Coitus,” “Like a dream too wide for the brain/ I can but hold to your shoulders like the edge of a cliff,” Will drifts into sentimentality without his typically spasmodic musicianship to ground and temper his indulgency. Romaplasm relies, above all else, on the delicate enigma of an artist channeling emotions through the artificial landscape of electronic music.

The city of Rome, though often contested among etymologists, is typically agreed to have origins in the word Rumon, meaning “flowing water,” while plasma, in the field of biology, refers to the malleable liquid in which blood cells are suspended. As the portmanteau Romaplasm, the two words intimate a sense of looseness, of that which can be molded. Wiesenfeld, when recalling his early music education, expressed a distaste for the perceived rigidity of the music he was learning, yet now finds creating music digitally to be a liberating practice . In Romaplasm is a feeling of fluidity, whether on “Broadback,” whose freewheeling arrangement sees various sounds and textures entering and leaving the song, never beholden to remain or linger, or on “Abscond” whereby ethereal background vocals wantonly occupy the song, only to vacate at a moment’s notice.

Will Wiesenfeld lacks the proper sensibilities to become a bona fide pop star as Baths or either of his other sobriquets. His oft-experimental approach to electronica and his indie label affiliation place him as more of an underground hero, albeit one who’s enjoyed a prodigious amount of praise and coverage. With a sotto voce that at times leans too hard on the adenoids, Will knows better than to preen his voice for Top 40 radio. His home is with the glitch crowd. But pop star or no, Wiesenfeld, as Baths, taps into those universal feelings that makes pop music so accessible and so, well, popular.

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