Playing on Prefix is a new feature on KCRW’s music blog where writers from the eclectic music site Prefix hip you to what’s coming out of their computer speakers this week.
Over the last decade, Los Angeles has emerged as a mecca for the type of beat-oriented electronic music that in the ’90s was primarily associated with European labels following the lead of Warp Records.
Artists like Flying Lotus, Daedalus, and Nosaj Thing have formed a locus around which a scene of innovative beatmakers has flourished. Genres as disparate as jazz and hip hop are subsumed by their sample-based compositions, which vary in sound and texture to such an extent that, without their shared geography and methodology, the artist’s responsible would likely not be linked in the public’s mind. This scope is necessary to represent a sprawling city like L.A., however, and the frequent collaborations and shared stages between these artists make it clear that this is a unified community.
Enter Will Wiesenfeld, a 21-year-old musician who released his debut album as Baths last month. He had previously gone under the moniker [Post-Foetus], but with an invitation from Daedalus to open a show for Flying Lotus and Nosaj Thing, Baths was born. Cerulean was released on Anticon Records, the Bay Area label known primarily for its roster of underground rap icons. He has also produced remixes for fellow Californians Shlohmo and Fol Chen.
What Baths brings to the L.A. electronic scene is a depth of emotion that is sometimes lacking in the work of his peers. Wiesenfeld sings on his tracks, which is a rarity among the brow-furrowed laptop wizardry of similar artists. In fact, Cerulean opens with a multi-tracked chorus of Wiesenfeld’s vocals before the stuttering beats make an appearance. He has a smooth falsetto croon that could be cloying if not utilized properly, but he is able to consistently deploy it in service to the songs. The vocals on tracks like “Lovely Bloodflow” and “You’re My Excuse to Travel” come close to soulful. His mantra of “I still smell you, distance aside / Still smell the rain, distance aside” on “Rain Smell” is deeply affecting, making the following track “Indoorsy” sound even more jubilant. And of course, this is all done over a foundation of propulsive percussion, piano, and samples that could easily hold one’s attention on its own.
Baths has an upcoming national tour that will run from late August to early October. Until then, we’re going to keep Cerulean on repeat here at the Prefix offices.
– Matthew Blackwell