It’s been [almost] three weeks, but I still remember it like it was only yesterday…
Like all good love stories, this one begins with a lost soul. Mine, to be more specific. But like the best of those stories, this one is actually about two lost souls. Two independent beings who are able to connect on some transcendent platform that supersedes the constraints of this mortal prison. In the amorphous haze, lurking above the crowd at the El Rey two weeks ago, my essence was able to drift upwards and connect with a stronger force. Something stronger, better, and much more musically talented than myself. Swallowed up into this bigger thing, I forget myself, remembering only that I am lost but I am not alone, that others are lost with me; that all of us are blind to everything except for one beacon of auditory light.
Some of you may know him by his moniker, Baths, and others might just know him by his unique sound, able to identify the always blissful undulations that Baths has been cranking out since 2007. A Los Angeles native, this show is like coming home, and he claims we’re the biggest crowd he’s ever had. It’s hard to believe, as I look around I can imagine it being much more crowded. No one has jostled me for my spot, and I have a prime viewing location: standing stage slightly to stage left, about 20 feet from the front. There’s a sunken area in the middle of the room, that makes for some stadium-like standing for a few steps. I was lucky enough to grab a middle step, giving me the extra 6-inches my 5’7” – frame needs to see over just about everyone.
We had made it to the venue right as the last of the openers was finishing. My friend, Yureli, and I had meant to make it there for the start of the show, but we are perennially late. As we walked into the venue from the lobby, I have to admit I was impressed. There was something incredibly swanky about the decor, and I didn’t feel like the place was trying too hard. Maybe I’m just new to the real world, but I felt pretty adult being at a place with so much velvet (honestly, there might not have been any velvet, maybe I’m projecting). My perceived adulthood was also enhanced by the high-schoolers who were soulfully head-bobbing in droves around us. I realized, at 22, I am far from the youngest one at this all-ages concert.
After the lights dim after the final set-change, the crowd hushes in anxious excitement. Can Baths really exist? Is he actually just like the Wizard from Oz? Nothing but a man with a clever machine? (Actually, he’s kind of exactly like the Wizard from Oz… Maybe that’s what the Wizard should have aspired to, becoming a musician instead of a “magical” man).
Out walk two people.
I thought it was just Will?
“Hi, We’re Baths.”
So I’m not going to get an explanation from Will, but I’ll guess it has to do with a need for a more complex instrumentation for the live performance that he can do on his own. I’m okay with that, as long as Will’s still the driving creative force. He just gets me, ya know?
I’ll be honest, I hadn’t listened to the new album, “Obsidian,” much before the concert. I wish I could say that I wanted to preserve my memories so that each song could be fresh to mine ears on this most fortuitous day, but alas, alack, I just didn’t have time to listen to it in preparation.**
“Birth was like a fat black tongue / Dripping tar and dung and dye.”
The depressing opening lyrics of Worsening, the first track off of the new album, are resignedly spit into the microphone, being layered over repetitive clicking and ghostly moans.
Later in the song, he admits: “I might walk upright / But then again / I might still try to die.” Suddenly, the instrumentally-driven chorus sails into focus, surprisingly hopeful given the imagery and sentiment of the lyrics. These swings from deep misery to unparalleled, inspiring beauty remind us that life is inconsistent. But that these dichotomies make the most complex, honest music.
It doesn’t take me long to catch on the the fact that Baths is grappling with his mortality. This album is one that’s obsessed with death, which shouldn’t be surprising given Baths’ musical style. His glitch-hop is constantly flirting with abrupt endings. The sounds he creates are constantly being interrupted, creating the truncated syncopation that he’s become famous for. On multiple tracks throughout this new album, the sound completely dies out. While performing these tracks live, he and his partner actually completely freeze as the sound stops and the lights go dark. On each occasion, the crowd collectively holds their breath, releasing the tension when Baths finally returns the beat. Beyond the sudden-death aesthetic of his sound, the lyrics range from the macabre to the hopelessly depressed
“The thought of mortality dormant in me” he admits in Phaedra, another track that has the instrumentation of optimism, but the ideology of tortured abandon. Some of the people here on a Friday night might not want to think about their mortality, but this is a Baths concert, and we will deal with the issues that he presents to us. Issues of mortality, illness, lost faith, and low self-esteem.
These issues come to a head in the single, Miasma Sky. When Baths asks, his question carries out over the audience: “Tall rock shelf, are you maybe here to help me hurt myself? / Miasma Sky would you swallow me alive?” He repeats these inquiries over and over again, and I listen to him each time as if he’ll ask something new. I desperately want to answer him, I want to tell him to stop considering being swallowed alive. I want him to tell him that I need him to survive so that I can survive. I need him to pull himself back from the cliff so that I can do the same. But I know that I am not the one he is asking. I am not the Miasma Sky.
The two tracks he plays from his first album, Cerulean, break up the suicidal tone of the new album but they aren’t much brighter. The mechanical opening of “Lovely Bloodflow” earns a cheer from a lot of fans in the audience. “You are my bloodflow / baby lovely bloodflow,” he coos, and I get the feeling that maybe this song was written for a love that’s since been lost. Like maybe Baths has lost his lovely bloodflow, and that’s part of the reason for the intense melancholia on this new album.
The heartbreaking lyrics of Plea, where Baths desperately begs with an unnamed love, “Boy you are every color / how am I visible? / please tell me you need me.” All he wants is answers and to be needed. Or at least to feel needed (and who doesn’t want that?). This song washes over me, and I feel like I totally understand that feeling of invisibility. When I meet other people, they seem so vibrant and alive, and I feel like I’m getting dimmer and dimmer. Besides calling out for help, like he’s doing, I don’t know how to escape this fate. I will use his plea as my own because, as usual, Baths is better at expressing my feelings that I am.
After more than an hour, Baths tells us that he will not be doing an encore, but that he will end with one last song. When the crowd seems skeptical, he chuckles and assures us, “It’s good.”
Then the white noise-rain sound that is peppered across the best of Baths’ tracks comes in, before the punchy tones of “No Eyes.” Instead of ending with a song about mortality, this last track is all about anonymous sex. It’s got a reckless sentiment, and its honesty is embedded in the desperation. This song is another plea, but it is definitely not a love song.
“And it is not a matter of /
If you love me /
But it is only a matter of /
The last lyrics hang in the air when the lights come on and we all begin to head towards the door. Again, he’s really said it perfectly. I know that Baths will never love me (or know me), but really this was all about my fix. I needed to be reminded that I am not alone in feeling so alone. At least I have Baths in my corner.
-DJ Ruthie P
**NOTE: I assigned song titles to songs retroactively after listening to the Baths’ album in it’s entirety. I have a pretty good memory, so I’m pretty sure they are all accurate.