Baths Journeys Into Fantasy with ‘Romaplasm’
Will Wiesenfeld's newest record is a combination of tiny universes
Since debuting on the scene seven years ago with his LP Cerulean, Will Wiesenfeld, best known as Baths (and sometimes as the passive-listening experience, Geotic), has always been known to bleed into his music—and not just emotionally. Since the beginning, Wiesenfeld’s affinity for Eastern cultures and fantasy has been apparent. A wounded samurai is the visual focus for one of his first singles, “Lovely Bloodflow,” while “Seaside Town” called for multiple AMVs from anime fans, due to its tasteful sampling of the Hayao Miyazaki masterpiece, Kiki’s Delivery Service. Electronic beats and hip hop intertwined on Cerulean, sometimes laced with sweet, small verses. The spastic and atmospheric sound of L.A.’s 2009-era beat scene aided in Cerulean’s birth and paved the way for Wiesenfeld’s career success.
Will occasionally arranges little pockets of glitchy, beat-crazed chaos into his music, toying with the destruction of song structures for the sake of a few seconds’ worth of warped anxiety. That destruction was most apparent on Baths’ second full-length, the 2013 album Obsidian. Recording while combatting a nasty case of E. coli. Wiesenfeld unleashed his darkest assessments into a record injected with self-deprecation, self-actualization, and depressing, sometimes drab lyrics. No more of the fluff heard on Cerulean: “Birth was like a fat black tongue / Dripping tar and dung and dye / Slowly into my shivering eyes.” For this project, Wiesenfeld shifted his vocals to the forefront, using his production to complement his voice, rather than smother it electronically. A record birthed out of despair and frustration, it was nonetheless a logical, organic step toward Bath’s artistic maturity.
Romaplasm, Baths’ third full-length and fourth overall release on Anticon (an underrated compilation Pop Music/False B-Sides came after Cerulean), brings an amalgam of everything the artist has accomplished so far. And that’s definitely everything—the video games he’s played, the fantasy worlds he’s escaped toward in the anime and graphic novels he’s devoured, his identity as LGBTQ, his knack for pop music, electronic beats and moody environments, and even the hilarious Twitter/Vine persona he’s unassumingly created for himself. Romaplasm is Will Wiesenfeld in 2017: confident, happy, nerdy, enthralling and gay.
“Cerulean—what that was for me was an experiment,” Wiesenfeld tells me over the phone from his LA apartment, presumably staring at the pause menu of Fallout 4. “Making Cerulean was a left-field thing for me. I’m really inspired by hip hop producers and that kind of sound, the slowness and weight of those types of beats. There’s a lot of experimental electronic music I was listening to that has that realm of production as well, so it was sort of engaging that stuff a little closer and doing my attempt at that. It was also closely inspired by L.A.-beat scene stuff, and chillwave shit—which I have to own, as cheesy as it was—I was into that stuff. All those things rolled together and it was my 20-year-old attempt at trying that stuff. I knew that before anything happened with [Cerulean], it was going to be this one record. I definitely was not going to be riding the Cerulean sound out for my entire career, because I would get bored. Romaplasm now is way different from that stuff, I think.”
It’s obvious from the start of the record just how different Cerulean is from Romaplasm—or even Obsidian, for that matter. At first listen, it’s bright, warm, and the vocals are clearer than ever. No longer so deeply woven into his production, Will’s voice is front-and-center, layered just above his beats. On the album’s introduction, “Yeoman,” a happy Wiesenfeld describes finding love on an airship through a poppy electronic soundscape that feels inspired by the soundtrack to a small town in an RPG video game. “Left my life on the ground / To dance with you in the clouds,” Will delivers through gleam, as if he’s truly waltzing through the sky holding Cid from Final Fantasy by the waist and falling completely in love with him. (I never asked which Cid he’d prefer, though I’ll mention that earlier this year, Wisenfeld provided music for Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator, so it’s safe to assume the oldest Cid) Romaplasm starts off as purely feel-good pop music.
In an early press release for the record, Wiesenfeld explained the influence video games, anime, comics and fantasy played on crafting Romaplasm. “I wanted to be honest with myself that this is where my heart lies and where I get the most motion out of life,” he said. “I’m just elsewhere with them, which is what I find so inspiring. my day-to-day life is pretty mellow. I conduct myself in a mellow way and I have a pretty uneventful day, most of the time. I’ll exercise, come home and work on stuff, watch TV, go out with friends. That’s my style of living. I don’t turn up every night or anything. I spend most of my time at home, so things like video games and anime are a departure from my normal life. I’m able to completely transport myself. I have a hardcore imagination. so I feel like I’m involved in it, like it’s actually happening and I’m totally in another place and I’m very focused. That stuff feels really good to me and it gets me inspired to work on my own music.”
While sifting through Romaplasm’s themes, song titles and lyrics, it suddenly feels as if Obsidian and the song “Ironworks” were Minecraft references all along, and on the sensual “Coitus,” a later cut on Romaplasm that begins with a bed squeaking and ends with “I beg you, rain it down on me,” the line “take the time to mine good ore from me” might make more sense in that context.
On “Extrasolar,” listeners are introduced to a crew of space explorers, a-la the anime Cowboy Bebop. Off-kilter percussion slugs through violins and dreamy piano backgrounds as we delve into adventure and outer space fantasy. “Abscond” is a fairy-tale venture into love between two boys, calling images of horseback riding and castle walls over a backdrop of innocent, delicate electronic pinging. “Yeoman” through “Abscond” are tales from Baths’ storybook, showing little glimpses into a fantasy world parallel to the realms Will visits through his nerdy pastimes. The listener digests accessible fantasy tales of love through fiction, world-building and romantic ideas.
“I had this working title of ‘plasma,’ just because it’s the fourth state of matter,” Will says of the album’s title. “It’s solid, liquid, gas, and then plasma—which is the most hot, the most extreme, most energetic. Slapping this [idea] on the songs as I was making them just felt like the right thing, because I had this energy I wanted to make on this record. That was one of the first things I had thought of before I had a title, before I had lyrics—I just knew I wanted the BPMs to be higher, the song lengths to be a bit shorter. That title had been sitting there, but I never wanted to actually call the record ‘plasma.’
“Then, way further down the line, once I had written a bunch of lyrics, I found the Wiki for romanticism. That struck a chord really hard with me—it was like, almost point-by-point as I was reading through, that this is how I feel about music. This is how I like to make music, this makes sense to everything. I’m trying to talk about on the record. It hit me, perfectly. It was a lot of focus on the self of the artist. I looked back at all of the stuff on the record and basically thought, the only thing that would make sense as a title is squishing those two things together – this energy, this romanticism. I realized in shortening the word ‘plasma’ to ‘plasm,’ it’s kind of like, it brings the mind the word ‘cytoplasm,’ which is the membrane that encases everything within a cell. Those two things sat really well in me. Romaplasm sort of translating to a pocketed universe of romanticism. It’s sort of a self-contained thing. The word is goofy, and it’s not a real word, but it’s as close to what I was trying to talk about as I could possibly get.”
Romaplasm is as much anime, fantasy and video games as it is gay. Though “Abscond” is a charming love tale between two boys, throughout Romaplasm—this specific track—traces of society views surrounding homosexuality are apparent. “You’re the ire of your father but the other half of me,” one character sings to another, hinting at a dad’s disdain for his gay son, while a lover is hopeful of finding another like him. “Out,” a goofy song about going clubbing and feeling uncomfortable, could double as a coming out of the closet soundtrack.
“Human Bog,” the record’s fourth track, introduces cynicism, dispelling any thought of Romaplasm being a full-on happy pop record. Here, Will unpacks the general uneasiness of the queer experience and coming to terms with identifying as gay. Over a delicate, slowly teetering beat, Will juxtaposes sexuality as a matter of day and night through a character from turn-of-the-century England who lives a double life. By day, this character is hired help, “positioning pearls on younger girls who couldn’t be bothered,” and “buttoning poise on younger boys avoiding their father.” By night, this character is a gay sex object. “I’m queer in a way that works for you,” the character sings during his nightly ritual, loathing the secrecy of his sexuality, hidden away from society. This character begins to hate himself. “Everyone alive lives fuller lives than me.”
“‘Human Bog’ at its core is my reaction to never feeling like the ‘right sort’ of gay, if that makes sense. I didn’t have gay friends growing up, and even after coming out I didn’t immediately have a queer circle of friends to fall in with. In my life, I’ve become comfortable with that, that I’m my own person, and that I didn’t try to conform to some non-existent queer archetype just to feel like I belonged.
“‘Human Bog,’ however, takes a huge step backward,” he continues. “It’s an entirely negative indulgence. It reaches deep into that unease about my sense of self and sets that emotion against the backdrop of turn-of-the-century England… By the time the time the song gets to the word “hate,” I think a strong case has been made for the subject’s self-hatred and cyclical negativity. The manic repetition of the word ‘lie’ reinforces that. The line “queer in a way that works for you” is sort of the thesis of the song, that the subject is only as gay as his world allows, with zero regard for his own happiness or sense of self-worth.”
Every piece of Wiesenfeld fully visualizes itself on Romaplasm’s album cover. The finger band and top Will wears portrays an anime-esque influence, felt on songs like “Lev” and “Adam Copies,” a direct reference to the anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion. The greenery in the portrait’s background feels delicate, intimate, pure. A hand touches Will’s face, depicting a sense of wonder in love and sexuality.
“I knew I wanted a portrait, because I feel like so much of the lyrcism of the record is about having my face be a part of it,” Will explained. “It’s very much about my effort, through these different weird little vignettes going on. I had the image for the way that it looks, with an older man’s hand on my face… My eyes being teary, a portraiture subtly emphasizing gay shit, subtly emphasizing toward fanatasy shit.”
Romaplasm goes back and forth between engaging its listener through strings and classical thematics, to electronic sounds. The focus of Romaplasm is not that of Cerulean or Obsidian—we’re not listening to solely production, beats, glitchy tweaks or sadness. We’re tuned into fantasy and otherworldly structures and tales Baths tells us. “I Form” recalls Wiesenfeld’s emotions from younger days, playing in various bands, and forming bonds with friends. Over strings and small explosions of electronic awe comes Wiesenfeld’s falsetto, “While the rapture is young / Dote on the friends of your love.” On “Broadback,” a character sings of his love and admiration toward a strong, powerful man who is the protector of a certain sanctum. “Should they bludgeon your redwood thighs / And you are left to writhe / Your body’s not something I can carry back / Don’t ask me to let you die.”
These lyrical themes and concepts combine old and new in delightful ways, engaging with the listener by way of emotion. Wiesenfeld assumes the roles of these characters by tapping into their emotions with uncanny ability. We hear their fears, insecurities, joys and wonders through each tale weaved together, and they feel massive.And no matter how fantastical things get, these concentrated stories—whimsical, sometimes brief—are all felt through the common ground of human emotion.
Fan of nerdy mediums or not, Baths still manages to get his point across with Romaplasm. The record works whether or not you’re able to connect the dots and understand Romaplasm’s various references. Gaming and anime fans might find something in electronic music with Romaplasm they perhaps weren’t able to find before, and vice versa for electronic, or general music fans. This record feels like a combination of tiny universes.
— ● Will Wiesenfeld ● (@BATHSmusic) November 29, 2017
Fellow nerd and funkatarian Thundercat seems to get it. And Will’s pleased. “It’s not even a joke – it’s like yeah, that’s my fucking world. Except for maybe like the jar of piss—I don’t have a jar of piss, but besides that, everything is like, 100% accurate.”