Friday, September 24, 2010

maudlin of the Well-Bath

In music, as in all forms of art, there come works that cannot be analyzed or quantified as to why they are as beautiful as they are. Sometimes, even artists are baffled as to why every brushstroke or note is executed to perfection, creating something much greater than the sum of its parts. Similarly, sometimes we as consumers of art are inexplicably drawn in to a work by which we are completely swept away.

As I try to explain why maudlin of the Well's "Bath" is that work to me, I am frustrated by the fact that since I cannot explain why every second of this album moves me in this way, I am powerless to relate it to anyone else. Making the task even more frustrating is the fact that "Bath", like all of Toby Driver's works, is impossible to categorize into a genre. The opener "The Blue Ghost/Shedding Quliphoth" is like a post-rock take on a classic Genesis piece, with its otherworldly atmosphere and climactic song structure. "Bath" then oddly transitions into "They Aren't All Beautiful", which can be summarized basely as "jazz metal". What begins as a meaty death metal song with growled vocals transitions into a heavy version of Steely Dan or some other swing/jazz band.

And from there, "Bath" becomes even more difficult to place. From "Heaven and Weak"s enchantingly gorgeous classical influences, to "The Ferryman"s over the top organ intro, to the charming instrumental interludes, Toby Driver never fails to offer up variety, all the while carefully distributing different sounds so as to never become overbearing. On songwriting prowess alone, "Bath" should be lauded as one of the works of the century simply because it is more successfully eclectic than anything else I have ever heard.

But what makes "Bath" so special is not its amazing variety. Indeed, Driver's ability to transition seamlessly from crushing to frail in "Birth Pains of Astral Projection" would be meaningless if it were a detached showcase of music theory. "Bath"s real strength lies in its deep emotion, its heart-rending beauty, and its strange connection it so easily forges with the listener. Hearing "The Blue Ghost"s ethereal theme reprised by clarinet in "Girl With a Watering Can" and by guitar harmonics in "Geography" hits home in a way I cannot describe. The melancholy melody sung by female vocals in "Girl With a Watering Can" is the very embodiment of immersion, coupled with the distant electric guitar and light keyboards. And "Birth Pains of Astral Projection" is emotionally harrowing every time, with its epic climax in the middle and its glacial calm at the end, made perfect by Toby's frail singing.

In the end, it is impossible to describe how perfect "Bath" really is, right down to the mysteriously forlorn album art. This is true art at its finest, able to tap into the deepest reaches of what drives our human emotions without one mention of a break-up or of death. It's almost disturbing how effortlessly Driver connects with the listener on this album. To ignore it as much of the rest of the internet and blogging community has since its 2001 release would be depriving oneself of one of the finest works of art of the century.

My favorite song of all time:

Birth Pains of Astral Projection

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