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Will Wiesenfeld changes pace on new Geotic record

| Thursday, April 20, 2017

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Admittedly, I had a lingering bad feeling about Will Wiesenfeld’s new record as Geotic. More widely known for his angsty synth-pop project Baths, Wiesenfeld occasionally retreats to his Geotic alter-ego as a form of escape. And it’s a retreat indeed: As Wiesenfeld himself describes it, while his music as Baths is composed for “active listening,” Geotic prioritizes “passive listening.” In other words, this latest Geotic record, “Abysma,” would be a deliberate step into the shadows for Wiesenfeld.

This sounds all of my alarms. As it is, I’m suspicious about anything that’s described as “background” music — especially if the producer puts it that way her or himself. Listeners use the term to describe insipid or uninspired material (whether the label is warranted or not), while musicians use it to excuse those same qualities. It’s a dangerous term all around, and when Wiesenfeld employed it himself, I couldn’t shake the premonition that “Abysma” would amount to nothing to write home about.

Listening to the record, though, you’ll get the sense that Wiesenfeld was onto something: His focus on “passive listening” is not the cop-out you’d expect. Previous Geotic records have been rather unimpressive; at best, they’ve been interim distractions from Wiesenfeld’s more remarkable music as Baths. “Abysma,” however, finally transforms Geotic into the “passive” — yet equally stirring — mirror counterpart to Baths, an aim to which the project should have always aspired.

This new polarization seems quite deliberate, and it’s absolutely effective. In fact, “Abysma” picks up right where Wiesenfeld’s most recent Baths LP, “Obsidian,” leaves off.

“Inter,” the closer to “Obsidian,” is a mournfully bittersweet, largely instrumental track in which Wiesenfeld’s evocative hums constitute his only vocal interjections. It’s a perfect segue into “Sunspell” — the opener to “Abysma” — which is entirely electronic and thus departs from the vocal-centric pseudo-pop of “Obsidian.” While “Abysma” is not wholly devoid of Wiesenfeld’s presence, his voice is not the center of attention, but an instrument that complements the record’s surprisingly moving chillwave-esque arrangements — just as it was on “Inter.”

Moreover, while “Obsidian” is a thematically dark record — both sonically and lyrically — “Abysma” rearranges elements of the same aural palette into something brightly idyllic. The two are perfect opposites, but in the way of inverted images: You can see one in the other, and they are mutually complementary. Even each record’s respective artwork reflects the polarity: the iridescent clarity of “Abysma” acts as a counterpoint to the dark cloud of “Obsidian.”

Indeed, “Abysma” is such a strong record that it would be unfair to call it a companion piece to “Obsidian.” The production is just as seamless as anything on “Obsidian,” and surpasses the creatively inspired but somewhat clumsy instrumental cuts from Wiesenfeld’s breakthrough record, the sunny Baths LP “Cerulean” — which is compositionally the most similar to “Abysma.” In other words, “Abysma” does not exist in a vacuum, but shines in the context of Wiesenfeld’s quick and fruitful maturation as a professional musician.

Besides, leave it to Wiesenfeld to strum your heartstrings without hardly uttering an intelligible word. Perhaps it’s a corny title, but “Actually Smiling” will leave you actually smiling with its uplifting synth warbles, and Wiesenfeld’s otherworldly meowing on “Billionth Remnant” makes it the catchiest track that still qualifies as great music for focusing on work.

Which is to say, in any case, that Wiesenfeld’s latest record is an absolute success. “Abysma” gracefully straddles a fine line, allowing for “passive listening” without sacrificing quality or Wiesenfeld’s musical integrity, and thereby calling for repeated plays. That was his intention to begin with, and he has executed his vision with impressive faithfulness to form. I had no reason to be worried.


Artist: Geotic

Album: “Abysma”

Label: Ghostly International

Favorite Track: “Actually Smiling,” “Billionth Remnant”

If you like: Gold Panda, Tycho, Laurel Halo

Shamrocks: 4 out of 5

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