'Miasma Sky', the first single from Baths' sophomore album Obsidian, begins with a melancholy piano ringing through rain splattering against concrete. It's the same kind of mood he set with tracks like 'Rain Smell' and 'Departure' off of his excellent debut album Cerulean. But the piano quickly cuts out to reveal only the bad weather playing companion to Will Wiesenfeld's plaintive, query-filled hook: "Are you maybe here to help me hurt myself?" It's presented as a question, but his delivery suggests the answer is already clear. True to its name, Obsidian is a dark, contemplative and ferocious follow-up to one of the more intriguing records to come out of the past few years.
It's a testament to the power of great songwriting, but the even without the music on Obsidian being as gloomy and intense as it is, the lyrics still reflect a type of confidence completely absent on Cerulean. Compare the hook of "Please tell me you need me" from 'Plea' with the explicit, demanding chorus of 'No Eyes' that orders the song's subject to "Come and fuck me." In terms of subject matter, Obsidian is an album phenomenally more mature and sure of its intentions than its predecessor.
Even though he was originally associated with the chillwave movement, Wiesenfeld's music has rarely felt as fleeting and momentary as his peers' songs. While Baths is still equal parts nostalgia and electronic glitch, but the more analog moments on Obsidian show a more developed songwriter really discovering his calling. The driven 'Ossuary', with a post-punk flavored bass and live percussion, is one of the least electronic and most fun songs in his entire catalog to date. The album's closing track 'Inter' is a guitar-led, lyricless lounge palate cleanser, not far removed from something you would have expected on the latest Toro y Moi album. The glitch-hop elements that defined Cerulean's more popular tracks are still here, but subtly applied enough to leave surprises through multiple listens. 'No Past Lives' is driven by a hoppy piano coda, but the intricate percussive noises flutter and glitch behind thick synths like bugs buzzing around your head.
But the most commendable achievement of Obsidian is the assertive sexual energy it displays with absolutely no sleazy aftertaste. It's rare to find an album that writes about sex in such an honest and poignant way, and coming from a queer musician it's even more admirable. And while his songwriting can border on academic at times ("In Victorian doorways / in tempestuous foreplay" from 'Ironworks') it fits with the meticulously complex arrangements. From the multiple key changes in 'Miasma Sky', to the unexpected blast of noise in 'No Eyes', to the crunchy ping-ponging 8-bit sounds that drive 'Incompatible' and seem to change after every bar, Obsidian is an exquisitely crafted album.
I hesitate to use the term "grown up", because Wiesenfeld is still only 24 years old. But it's hard not to consider this album more sophisticated than expected from someone so young when it's so phenomenally put together and well-written. Because of the songs on Cerulean, especially 'Aminals', Baths has been erroneously called chillwave for almost three years now. But Obsidian pushes so far beyond the expectations of a follow-up for a chillwave record that Wiesenfeld is now working alongside boundary-pushing contemporaries like Laurel Halo, Holly Herndon, and Andy Stott. You might as well call it post-IDM, because what the hell do genres mean anymore, right? Whatever it is, Obsidian is the exactly the type of record a Baths fan should be excited for: something simultaneously original, brave, and exciting to listen to over and over again.