It’s been 30 years since Public Enemy thundered that the “B-Side wins again.” A winking nod to the notion that songs initially considered an afterthought are often superior to those considered “keepers.” It’s a proverb long confirmed by classic odds and sods compilations like Nas’ Lost Tapes, Kendrick Lamar’s Untitled, Unmastered, The Smiths Louder Than Bombs, too much Aphex Twin to count, and yes, The Who’s Odds and Sods.
But what to make of the “False B-Side,” an ascription coined by Baths to anthologize the uncut gems that didn’t fit into his previous albums as Baths or Geotic. Herein pulses Pop Music/False B-Sides II, a dozen renewed ideas and sketches finally colorized. Emotional pop hymns and ambient bliss instrumentals resurrected, refined, and polished until they’re blinding. Jewel boxes with a trap door. Over the last decade, the Los Angeles-raised singer, producer, and songwriter, Will Wiesenfeld has constructed a spellbinding canon of private secrets publicly released, glittering emerald sutras that you can dance to, as lovely as bloodletting gets.
There have been three revered studio albums as Baths (plus the first volume of Pop Music/False B-Sides), an entire catalog as Geotic, and nearly two dozen remixes and guest appearances. By the terms of conventional logic, there should not be this many good songs left. The fact that there are is testament to not just the prolificacy and indefatigable work ethic of Wiesenfeld, but the emotional depths that he’s capable of processing. To use the parlance of our times, a Baths song is a big mood. His work incisively tunnels into the uncomfortable realities that all of us wrestle with: love, regret, heartbreak, sexuality, death, the desire for comfort and the impulse to escape. Credit his subtle-but-sticky melodies, his ability to blend a seraphic falsetto with a calming tenor, and clever turns of phrases that allow for such well-trodden themes to seem brand new.
The songs on this compilation are culled from a much wider timeframe than the first Pop Music / False B-Sides that was recorded around the time of Cerulean, Wiesenfeld’s 2010 debut under the Baths moniker. Some of these tracks were considered for the final tracklists of Obsidian (2013) and Romaplasm (2017). Others started their creative life as collaborative efforts and Geotic tracks, but somehow became Baths songs. Yet if their genesis began as outliers, in their final form they seem created specifically for this collection — which isn’t far from the truth considering that the desire to complete another PM/FBS drove Wiesenfeld to finish more than half of them.
While the skeletons of the music were written over the course of the last decade, the lyrics were constructed only relatively recently. One of the most poignant and personal to Wiesenfeld is the finale, “The Stones.” Shortly before his father passed away earlier this year, his dad had pointed out a bit in the lyrics that made him proud of his son — the line “I still trust that men can be lovely/do what you like/but do it to me.” What’s more, the entire record is suffused with similarly poetic couplets that gently mesh with the imaginative chord progressions, soft cloud-like drums, and endless summer glitch.
The sense of irony is embedded into the title. There is nothing false to be found: the emotions contained are walloping and visceral, full of tenderness and vulnerability. A soundtrack to the Zoetrope flickering inside your weary head. Symphonies to fallen ideas, gilded requiems, and unerring realness that refuses to hide behind a mask — unless that’s the point. Pop Songs/False B-Sides II is the rarest of things, a sequel that defies repetition, a B-Side collection of all A-list material. And if you disagree, you can go argue with Chuck D.