Local scenes come-and-go. A group of friends otherwise like-minded creative people come across a similar aesthetic and influence each other to create a community of artists all making music that informs and stimulate each other. That happens every day and it’s the main reason why it’s usually a little weird when you don’t know where a band is from. That environment is crucial to “understand” an artist. Some of these scenes eventually get national recognition. That can be really exciting: The Manchester late 80s ecstasy-fueled scene, the late 60s San Francisco hippie scene, the late 70s punk scenes of both New York’s Bowery and London. Not only does that bring attention to lots of different artists within that community, it also makes a narrative that’s easy to tell and write about.
Los Angeles has always been a more fractured city and scene, 25 miles is a long distance for word-of-mouth to spread. Often bands who are successful in Santa Monica can’t draw an audience in Hollywood, a band from the Valley can’t draw in Echo Park. However the “beat scene” for which Los Angeles has become the center, is coming to national prominence with artists from all parts of L.A. being vital parts. No doubt it’s exciting to see artists who only in 2009 were playing Wednesday nights at the Airliner are now playing well into the night at huge festivals like Coachella.
However, one of the only things slowing the rise of this scene to international prominence is the natural disinclination for someone standing behind a computer to be considered a front-person, with personality and sensuality intact. Well, it’s possible L.A.’s beat scene star is beginning to emerge. And he goes by the name of Baths.
Baths first release, 2010’s Cerulean was an excellent first release. Its glitchy but accessible samples and beats married to catchy synths and the occasionally warbly tenor singing voice was the poppy successor to L.A. DJs Flying Lotus and Nosaj Thing. I even named it my number one record of the year for Grimy Goods year-end review. It’s a great record for sure but laptop history is laden with countless artists with a good release followed by same-y subsequent releases only to be forgotten about when newer artist with newer ideas come around.
Baths’ new release, Obsidian shows not only artistic and personal growth, but has shown Baths’ growth in such a way that possibly make him L.A.’s beat scene superstar. The first big change is that dude is singing A LOT. His voice is not a perfect instrument by any means, but its individual and instantly recognizable — sort of a laid-the-fuck-back, crooning Isaac Brock. His distinctive singing is not only a great way to mark this new territory, it’s also a step and a half towards a new audience, plus it’s a new instrument to deliver Baths’ fine melodic skills — which lead us to another big change; this guy has upped his songwriting game in a big big way. Cerulean certainly has its melodic parts and “Pop Song” is as catchy as any songs from that year despite the sparse use of voice, but Obsidian is mile longer and harder.
Baths gives away nothing in the way of danceability or tone but the melodies in these new tunes are memorable and complex with chord structures that come right our of the Great American Songbook. “Ironworks” starts with a Satie-like piano figure then turns into a falsetto-sung, string-laden beat ballad about foreplay. “Ossuary” has an uptempo and buzzy/straight bass line that gives the track more of an indie rock feel than a dance track, but the sing songy melody adds an extra line every second verse, a typical Tin Pan Alley songwriter’s trick. That’s as memorable as any “dance” track I’ve heard. “Phaedra’s” drum pattern sample seems to both shuffle and double time into a confusing but ultimately fervent track building to a whispered/sung chorus whose words laments Baths’ obsession with the fact that we will all die but the tune is so catchy it will live on forever. My favorite cut is “Worsening”. Upon my playing the track for a L.A. beat scene friend of mine, his reply was “that’s some next level shit”. Next level shit indeed. This track starts off clumsy, almost falling apart track with a depressed sounding Baths singing this beautiful melody in his lower register but soars in to jittery-played, beautifully-sung, joyful chorus that sounds like a the joy of baby bird taking fight for the first time and ends with a viola and drum machine accompanied soliloquy against God … Heavy shit.
Artistry like this is rare is electronic music but Baths finds a way to find the most human of emotions: carnality, frustration, frustration about carnality – and threaded them through this beautifully composed, cleverly produced release. And that may be the big break L.A.’s DJ scene has been waiting for. Maybe simply finding a ghost in the machine of laptop music is the thing that that draws a gigantic audience to Los Angeles laptops.
Baths has a show coming up at the El Rey on June 28 and Grimy Goods is giving away tickets! Enter the contest here!
Words by Stephe Psi-X