Romaplasm is an unabashed indulgence in nerdy pursuits





4 stars

Three months ago, Los Angeles art-soul crooner Moses Sumney asserted Aromanticism, the concept of self-contentment and the refusal/inability to reciprocate romantic love, in his debut album of the same name.

And now, LA transplant Will Wiesenfeld, who goes by the moniker Baths, has addressed another form of romanticism, an unabashed indulgence in nerdy pursuits.

"I'm not as emotive with real world things as I am when I'm neck deep in anime, video games, books or comics," he says in a press statement accompanying the release of his third studio record under Baths.

This he terms "Romaplasm", a portmanteau combining the Latin word "rumon" (or flowing water), or the name for the Italian capital Rome; and "plasma", the liquid which holds blood cells in suspension.

This translates to glitchy electronica shot through with tremulous heart. Akin to how Canadian violinist Owen Pallett's music borrows from role-playing fantasy games such as Super Mario and Dungeons & Dragons, Wiesenfeld takes similar interests to delve into an intimate exploration of self-worth.

In Yeoman, the catchy opening track from Romaplasm, he invokes the buoyant experience of falling in love. "Left my life on the ground/To dance with you in the clouds," he chants the chorus over ebullient beats. "I love it though your steps are never gonna make a lick of sense," he adds.

Such is the carefree sense of discovery, reflected in his quizzical way of stitching found sounds - the crack of vinyl, human echoes and a flint of a flute in the horizon.

This is followed by Extrasolar, a celebration of life as interstellar travel fuelled by synthetic strings, a cling of celestial bells, and, surprisingly, strums of guitar.

"Our goodwill is gonna kill us/Come what may, we're on our way (Intrepid and unfazed)," he sings, undeterred, before asking, ominously: "Some cosmic bard with means to roam/Will his loneliness deny?"

All these flights of fantasy are not self-deception. In Wiesenfeld's case, happiness, imagined and real, is hard-earned and justified.

He takes no prisoners. As in his second studio album, Obsidian (2013), which chronicles his struggle with E. coli bacteria, here he confronts his demons head-on.

In Human Bog, he zeroes in on the chasm between social pressure and inner fulfilment. "I'm queer in a way that works for you/This is stupid will you see it through," he whispers then alters his voice to sound squeaky. "I ran out of expectancy/Everyone alive lives fuller lives than me," he confesses, over beats cut up and dragged through burning coal. His voice takes on various registers, whatever suits the social decorum.

In the more upbeat I Form, he defies body limitations to forge his own identity. "As fever slips the ill into bouts of shivering... Witness close distance with your loudest feelings/Come free in camaraderie," he declares, adding, in an act of communion: "The least we suffer is with each other."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 20, 2017, with the headline 'Flights of fantasy'. Print Edition | Subscribe