Obsidian is a recovery album: something that’s been made in retaliation to a now finished crisis, and seemingly based on the premise that when you confront the ghosts of an ailment you may find symptoms you weren’t even aware of the first go-around. Though Baths’ Will Wiesenfeld is dealing with a recent bout of E. coli, the language is that of sexual indignation and frustration. Wiesenfeld really wants to be fucked, and the language of this desire invades every facet of this album. Obsidian is lyrically gutsy; in fact Wiesenfeld could probably be accused of oversharing. But beneath the filth and the physical decay are snippets of a Kate Bush-like ear for melody, and an ability to combine club music with more experimental fare that makes Obsidian sort of a emo-inflected version of Grimes’ Visions.
Obsidian is a visceral album, almost in the sense of a Cronenberg body horror piece. It’s hidden in the almost radio-perfect dub beats, but there’s an abundance of physical sliminess on Obsidian. On the other hand, this is an album that’s almost comically dark, with a lyrical directness that seems astute enough to be aware of its own inclination for tampering with clichés. “It is only a matter of come and fuck me,” Wiesenfeld sings on “No Eyes” almost immediately before the song descends (briefly) into an experimental clattering of glass objects. But the obsession with physicality is sometimes expressed in too juvenile a way, especially when paired with the very post-emo dance substance of a song like “Phaedra.” Even amongst the very ripened experimentation of an experienced sampler, the song just screams a little too loudly of emo-pop narrative.
Even “Phaedra” dips back into a very northern European instance of tinkling, glistening electro pop though, giving the song a much deserved climax of comfortable reflection. Similarly, “Miasma Sky” goes from a no-nonsense trans-world moody beat into a synth-pop breakdown reminiscent of early mum, if a bigger and bolder version of such. Lyrics about “rectal walls of agony” and erections being nursed back to full health crop up but are almost tempered into nonchalance by the Bright Eyes-like wailing that one expects to go along with such sentiments. There are sounds that seem to deliberately refer to flatulence, and more than a few moments where crunching and tearing percussion pieces might make you fear for your own skin and bones.
Obsidian is an album from which stunning ideas seem to float, but which is mostly concerned with the Herculean challenge of keeping the rest of its bulk up. Baths’ blending of nascent dance experimentation and emotive lyrical indie often belittles some of its most impressively composed passages, such as the piano pop intro to “No Past Lives.” But Wiesenfeld’s willingness to deface and shamelessly expose himself – and the exceptional lyrical clarity with which he does so – combined with the moonlight provincialism at the heart of many of these songs redeems Obsidian from its inclinations towards the monotone and the reused. Obsidian is a stylistic collage that yes, often fails to put its best foot at the front of the mix, opting instead for the repeat attack of its less substantial attributes, but the magic is still there – still worked into the swill, still very much playing a part.