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Geotic - Traversa Music Album Reviews

Ostensibly a side project to Will Wiesenfeld’s Baths, Geotic comes into its own on an album that treats background listening as a springboard into a world of color and texture.

Will Wiesenfeld’s swish ambient alter ego, Geotic, makes it to album number 10 (or nine, or 11, depending on how you count some of his early, digital-only output) with Traversa, which should at least graduate Geotic from side project to side project emeritus. The Los Angeles musician is best known under the name Baths, though Wiesenfeld’s shape-shifting electronic signature glistens across both projects. With Traversa, he douses every second in sudsy synth and glimmer.

Wiesenfeld has described the difference between Baths and Geotic as the difference between active and passive listening. At times, Geotic even glorifies and exalts the passive. Traversa hovers at the edge of the background, always ready to distract. Filled with skittering violins, pliable piano runs, and cart-wheeling rhythms, it is Geotic’s most bounding, attention-seeking work.

If last year’s Abysma seemed tailored for domestic enjoyment, then Traversa might be better suited for a sojourn in hilly terrain. The album is invigorating and repetitive in the way that walking is invigorating and repetitive. From the first sly beats of “Knapsack,” Wiesenfeld has made songs that scamper and recede with animal-like curiosity, maybe like the “quiet tree frogs” the song mentions, delightfully. As with the tree-frog hum—where the endless reiteration of their noise creates one flush fog of sound—Traversa gets its productive energy from blending and repetition. Emily Call’s violin and Wiesenfeld’s synth pads are both stretched to start to sound like one another. On “Maglev” (named for the train system that uses magnetic levitation based on a system of repelling), the violin achieves a state of suspension in bending back and forth.

Whether as Baths or Geotic, Wiesenfeld often focuses his songs on an emotional center. His chord progressions can pluck out the most sunken types of melancholy (see “Beaming Husband” from 2010’s Mend). But Traversa’s flickering movements suggest escapism: at the surface, moving quickly. The tangy bassline of “Swiss Bicycle” propels in forward motion as if careening past alpine lakes, wildly content. The album doesn’t stay giddy the whole time, but even the letdowns are gentle. On “Aerostat,” a pillowy kick drum comforts a piano that’s fixated and mournful, though still suspiciously lovely. The song doesn’t seem to be able to stay with the plaintive melody without trying to heal it.

Traversa’s leisure-outing quality comes through in the plush production. The song titles evoke a roving, European mountain vacation—and mirroring a vacation, the album seems cherished but not labored over. What if some grist was applied to these songs? If some of these pieces had worked through their progressions a little further, would the effect take us somewhere more transportive? If there was more elbow grease and some steel wool, would it be even shinier? Traversa wants to please, which isn’t the same as wanting to satisfy.

But a shadow lurks beneath Traversa’s fantasy of endless vacation. “Terraformer” might be a song about colonizing space or it might gesture at the unknowability of a romantic interest, but it does have a palpable twinge of doubt. When Traversa lets some suspicion slip through, it contours the slick, polished façade. It’s a welcome new depth.

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