Pulling off a record that hinges on substantial doses of both intensity and airiness requires an especially deft hand. Will Wiesenfeld, the Los Angeles-based electronic musician known professionally as Baths, is lucky enough to have that touch as well as the smarts to not abuse it. On a lyrical and fundamentally emotional level, Obsidian—Baths’ second full-length album—is teeming with examples of barely distilled desperation. Wiesenfeld’s measured voice (often stretched into a falsetto) makes all-wounds-exposed pleas to would-be lovers and other people who are half-listening to him. “Where is God when you hate him most?” he asks in “Worsening,” and then there’s a line about an erection in “Incompatible” that will make you cringe away from its painful honesty. This big self-harming failure just wants some comfort he can’t seem to find anywhere.
Unlike Obsidian’s heavy lyrics, the light instrumentation keeps the album levitating heavenward. Wiesenfeld’s minimalist palette is heavy on crinkling squiggles, dulcet pianos, various effects of mysterious origin and melodies that bloom unexpectedly. The basic strategy of mixing happy instrumentals with sad vocals (or vice versa) has been active in rock and pop for decades, and Obsidian demonstrates how durable that formula is and how powerful its results can be. This record gives you lots to chew on, making it a prime contender for 2013 best-of lists. May 28, Anticon (Reyan Ali)
On Nomad, two disparate geographic regions—Agadez, a Saharan city, and Nashville, “Music City” in Tennessee—are coyly united by the love language of rock & roll. Guitarist Omara Moctar, aka Bombino, was discovered after being filmed at a wedding and the footage landed on Guitars From Agadez Vol. 2. Six years later, he found himself in Dan Auerbach’s (The Black Keys) Nashville studio, recording his second album.
While fans of world music might know Tuareg music pioneers Tinariwen, Bombino is decidedly a more rocking affair (think an Islamic Mark Knopfler or a West African Carlos Santana) whose sound isn’t necessarily influenced by blues-rock revivalist Auerbach. If anything, Auerbach added depth with un-Saharan sounds like lap-steel guitar, vibraphone and organ to a few of the album’s 11 tracks, which were already filled with Bombino stuttering, jangly riffage.
At Nomad’s most rollicking, hard-hitting rock side is opener “Amidinine,” the album’s strongest tune. Bombino continues to stay close to his desert-blues roots with saturated guitar sounds and loping polyrhythmic playing on crunchy “Azamane Tiliade.” But the album is far from just head-banging. Bombino, a longtime peace advocate, sings about his homeland, which has been mired in conflict in recent years, and how it’s time for the people to unite and overcome (translations of tunes can be found in the liner notes). He also sings about protecting his Tuareg culture and heritage on the down-home, bucolic blues-folk tune “Imidiwan,” one of the few slow, beautifully paced songs that’s filled with call & response chants and a dash of misty-eyed soul. April 2, Nonesuch (Performing on Tuesday, May 28 @ The State Room, 638 S. State, 8 p.m., $22) (Austen Diamond)