Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Brad Kopplin
Before money really went out and tried to buy teams, there were the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers. Now, in a year when those two storied round ball clubs are playing for the NBA world championship, they are teams that money created, but it's okay. It's just how it works in this day and age of professional sport. The reason that Nat Baldwin digs on the Boston Celtics is not because of the front office's deep and wide pockets and the foresight to take Kevin Garnett off of the hands of the Minnesota Timberwolves, but because of the omnipresent cigar smoke of Red Auerbach, the baby hooks of Kevin McHale, the feathery blond mustaches of the ringleader/great From French Lick Larry Bird and the dour expressions of Robert "The Chief" Parish. Three titles in the 1980s will earn you some stripes and some followers. The naturalness of those legendary players was monumental.
Baldwin, himself, emulated his heroes so well that the title of his debut album (Most Valuable Player) is not in the least bit ironic or sarcastic. Boy got good and even more, the music that he creates flows so lushly that it feels like a hat that's just been caught by a gust and thrown from the top of a head, off and tumbling, with a head start. As his team has the upper-hand over the stupid Lakers in this seven-game series, he couldn't be happier with how things are playing out there and elsewhere. A generous and kind Pitchfork review in recent weeks has made the double bass player and singer from New Hampshire a someone to be discovered in short order.
His bow, working over those thick strings with a bottomless well timbre and a husky, steel wool, fuzzy friction, causes cheek muscles to slack and the hairs on your forearms to catch fire. They rage on like soundscapes of burning skylines and conflicts swaying right into the final acts where everything gets its resolution. The string arrangements on the album are swooning and not at all brisk, just a moisturizing lather of pink and orange hues, dashing in like continuous blushes, one right after the other.
Baldwin uses his voice in the same way as his friend David Longstreth of Dirty Projectors, focusing the beauty of it so that it gets to detour frequently and go up and down different canals, just being a tourist in all of the various arrays of adventure. He flips a switch and there's a curvy vowel getting upended into a flourish of side-winding and calligraphy. If he leaves it flipped for long enough - as he does on the album's "Black Square," your ears start to lounge into the couches of those notes and whiskers. It's as if a spell has been cast and the picture has gone silver and gold and if the natural light decides to bake into it, everyone would go blind with the littlest of exposure, just reflecting the rays. The sunlight that most of his songs give off can be plugged right into the skin and the vitamins can come into the stream just as a dye would.
There's no escaping the way that album opener "Lake Erie" sort of makes you want to think of the opening theme song from "Perfect Strangers" or "St. Elsewhere" or how you'd like to imagine those two theme songs might sound all these years removed from having had them work you like a salivary gland in one of Pavlov's dogs. Baldwin has made a sound that tames crazy days. It will be needed for the riots after Game 7 in the streets of Boston.
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