"IT TAKES A LOT of courage to go out there and radiate your essence," says a sampled female voice on Baths' ebullient headnodder "Maximalist." And that's exactly what Baths (21-year-old producer Will Wiesenfeld) has done on his debut album, Cerulean. Much of the full-length, which comes out June 22 on Anticon, possesses a soft-focus, tender quality that prompts one to affix that contentious descriptor "emotronica" to it. Good-natured fellow that he is, Wiesenfeld can accept this loaded term.
"Ahahaha," he guffaws, "people can say whatever they like! Who am I to tell someone how they should hear it? I guess I'm just a soft-focus, tender guy, amirite? I'm definitely not afraid to make things as tender and/or softly sexual as possible. I just emote that way; I mean... some of my favorite things in the world are drawings of guys kissing or sleeping together. I love love. Durp."
Aw. Lest you think Baths' music carries lethal levels of cuteness, rest assured the album's inherent sweetness is tempered by serious melodiousness and funky, oomph-worthy beats. There's a reason Baths has been welcomed into the fold at Los Angeles' sizzling epicenter of beat science, Low End Theory, and that Daedelus remixed "♥."
A precocious musician who grew up in a calm, supportive household in San Fernando Valley, California, Wiesenfeld began recording as [Post-Foetus], sparked by a revelatory encounter with Björk's Vespertine at age 14. "I knew the moment I heard Vespertine for the first time that there was nothing else in the world for me," Wiesenfeld recalls. "Nothing pulled me in and called to me as fiercely as the idea of being that sort of entity, and everything creatively in my life has revolved around that goal."
The Icelandic icon's sincerity and uncompromising approach to creativity inspired Wiesenfeld's own endeavors. "With Björk, the more you listen to her music, the more it feels like you are getting to know her. That's the way I hear music and see artwork and experience film; I need to hear the creator, and I feel like she communicates that better than anyone."
Wiesenfeld is also communicating a distinctive brand of electronic songcraft that caresses listeners' heartstrings. His poignant falsetto dapples productions that evoke the childlike innocence of peak-era German label Morr Music. The tracks on Cerulean seem constructed to retain and convey that sense of youthful joyfulness (and sometimes melodramatic melancholy).
"[Morr Music's] earlier catalog is some of my favorite music ever," Wiesenfeld gushes. "But that joyfulness is just me. I am an extremely happy and well-rounded person, and that's the way the music is coming out at the moment. There are much more sinister places that I've gone before in making music, but I have yet to go there with the Baths stuff. There are definitely sad songs on the album. 'Plea' is really the most melancholy, but it's still hopeful. The whole process of making the album was exciting and hopeful, so that's how most of the material ended up. Even the song 'Departure,' which deals with the death of an old couple, is written from a very positive perspective."
Cerulean displays a strong combination of hiphop-inflected rhythm and IDM-ish melody. But Wiesenfeld isn't much concerned about making people dance or immersing them in a deep headphone-listening experience.
"The key with making music for me is listenability," he says. "I don't want it to exist in precisely one world or the other; I'm definitely trying my best to go for universal appeal. I want it to be just as awesome to hear the songs in a personal way on headphones or speakers or whatever, and to hear them live and loud and see me flip my shit and have the best time ever."
Wiesenfeld's creative process reflects his admirable work ethic and instrumental versatility. "I try to create as much as possible from scratch, because I need to have the music feel like it's genuinely my own," he says. "I use some drum samples, but everything is tweaked to hell and back to create a sound or atmosphere I'm looking for. Every non-rhythmic instrument you hear is my own; I don't sample melodious material. I need to own 100 percent of the songs I make—I'd be too nervous to do otherwise."
As for the title Cerulean, it isn't an oblique homage to Joni Mitchell (Blue) or Miles Davis (Kind of Blue), although that hue did color the record's sound.
"Cerulean is a sort of nonspecific color," Wiesenfeld explains. "It's more like a spectrum of blue than an exact color like, say, navy blue. It also has a number of wonderful connotations, like the fact that it can be derived from the Latin word for heaven and sky. It was the perfect all-encompassing word for the material, and I had the title very early on in the process. I guess I can sort of attribute the route that the album took to the title."