Though Baths is his best known musical project, the Los Angeles native Will Wiesenfeld once said he was more likely to make music under the name Geotic “when it’s beautiful and cold outside and the weather is just more mellow.” Given its ambient sound and comparatively basic hip-hop loops, the side project felt less ambitious than Baths, but also less theatrical, less constructed, and overall, like a more comfortable listening experience. Last July, after a three year hiatus, Wiesenfeld once again started releasing music as Geotic, this time in service of a trilogy of albums referred to collectively as Eon Isle.
But while the first album in the series, Morning Shore, may have seemed like a throwback to that comfortable sound, Wiesenfeld had transformed Geotic; no longer a release from the creative strain that clearly went into Baths, it was now a challenge unto itself. Each Eon Isle album is constructed from the sounds of a single instrument. Morning Shore was all guitar. The second album in the trilogy, Sunset Mountain, which came out last month, consists entirely of vocals and nothing more. (The final album, Evening Sky, due next spring, will be made from piano.)
While the trilogy has a clear sense of exploration in common with its Geotic predecessors, it also finds Wiesenfeld on more of a mission. Albums like Mend found him happily meandering, but the restrictions he’s imposed on himself both on Morning Shore and on Sunset Mountain can make it seem as if he’s throwing down a kind of creative gauntlet, a test to be overcome. That’s particularly true on Sunset Mountain. Though the human voice is at least as flexible an instrument as the guitar, for whatever reason, Wiesenfeld restrains himself here more so than he did on the last record.
The result is an even more technically impressive set of compositions, which find Wiesenfeld constructing vocal cathedrals—tracks whose complexity is such that it becomes entirely possible to forget that the entire thing is voice and voice alone. “Hidden Springs, Floating Leaves” sounds as if it was written for a choir—the variety of voices layered around each other in different registers is staggering in its breadth, even when you forget that it’s all Wiesenfeld. “Reach the Broad Expanse” shows equal range, as Wiesenfeld roughs up one version of his voice, letting his lowest tone provide a floor for the track while other iterations of his voice float toward the sky.
A characteristic shared by Baths and Geotic are the two projects’ intense sensuality. In much of his music, Wiesenfeld comes off as almost carnal, a man obsessed with the way things feel and taste. For that reason, the music on his new record, even when angelic in melody, can come across as decidedly more deviant. It is gothic in a way that is less sober Bavarian hymnal and more “The Turn of the Screw”.
Indeed, while monks do appear in one of the album’s best tracks, they are described as being “off somewhere,” and there is a lilting sweetness to the singing here that is less mournful and more satisfied-sounding. “Hidden Springs, Floating Leaves” makes use of that same wicked vocal style that fans will recognize from Obsidian, and even “Piggybacking”, with its heavenly spiral stair patterns, comes off as somewhat sexual. (Though it may just be that the song’s title is reminiscent of the “sweet swine” from “Ironworks”, the one engaged in “tempestuous foreplay.”)
Without any instrument available to keep time (thankfully, Wiesenfeld does not beatbox here) the album suffers from significant problems with pacing. Some of the tracks here retain a remarkable sense of momentum, the kind usually created by the presence of a beat. “We Can Conquer Small Fears” is an early example; the track is patterned to the point where it’s easy to detect its natural rhythm. But several falter. True to its name, “Slow Fading Heat” is a slow, fading bore, one of more than a few songs here that lull you into forgetting about the creative talent behind them even when your attention is fully focused on them.
And that’s ultimately the key issue with Sunset Mountain. This sort of formal experiment fades a little when you ignore the process and consider the end-result. It’s impressive that Wiesenfeld is able to magic this music out of such a limited tool-set but at the same time, imposing those kinds of gimmicky limitations may be keeping Wiesenfeld from dealing with knottier artistic puzzles. Since his best album to date, Obsidian, was released in 2013, he’s made a single EP as Baths. While Geotic is pretty, diverting, and shows a prodigious formal skill, the end product, in spite of its process, lacks the drive and ambition of the artist’s best work. It ends up feeling like something of a practice session, albeit one of a very talented athlete, a grueling workout for the even more challenging event still to come.
from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/14ZLiAi