Posts Tagged ‘Aidan Baker’

Ici d’ailleurs – 15th September 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

The gathering together of Aidan Baker (guitar), Gaspar Claus (cello), Franck Laurino (drums) and Maxime Tisserand (clarinets) was engineered by Stephane Gregoire, Ici d’ailleurs’ artistic director for the purpose of simply seeing what would happen. The four were selected because of their musical dissimilarities, and the fact they did not know one another personally or musically. As such, the element of chance was one of the leading factors in the emergence of the pieces which make up the album. All of this makes Serendipity an appropriate addition to the ‘Mind Travels Series’ releases, of which it is the eighth.

Serendipity brings its share of unexpected twists and turns, sudden changes in tone and direction, but what’s more remarkable is just how smoothly it flows. And while there are expansive ambient passages, it’s certainly not an ambient record.

‘A day staring at eternity’ part 1 begins with an elongated, broad sweeping drone before strolling percussion and a wandering bass brings a sense of structure and more linear movement on ‘part 2.’ Through disconsolate, minimal jazz – horns lost in a wilderness of sighing drones – to a funereal darkness and eventually racing, urgently towards…what? eternity is not fixed, but stretching out across myriad horizons, all of which are uncertain.

‘Drawn with the wind,’ also in four parts, works a seam of expansive space-age prog with ambient undercurrents. A motoric swell of urgent percussion propels the composition relentlessly forwards, before stepping back in tempo and position to forge a distant thunder amidst eddying drones. The fourth part blossoms into a spectacular sonic sunburst, a slow groove at its heart. The performance and production coalesce to create a spellbinding moment.

The twenty-one-minute ‘After all the sun is awakening’ is immense in every sense, a widescreen krautrock drone that sways and swirls hypnotically. Strings drift and drape over rumbling sonic abstraction which envelop the listener.

The last two pieces, ‘We host you’ and ‘Fructification’ stand somewhat apart from the rest of the release. Shorter, more linear and overtly psychedelic, the former is a nifty noodlesome nugget, while the latter somehow represents the culmination of Orchard’s objective, incorporating as it does all elements of the album with condense concision, weaving around a paired-back yet insistent groove.

As a whole, Serendipity is an impressive work which demonstrates the power of collaboration when the right people come together – making Orchard a fruitful collaboration indeed.

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Gizeh Records – 10th November 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

This is certainly quite the collaborative lineup, featuring as it does Aidan Baker (Nadja / Caudal / B/B/S/), Simon Goff (Molecular, Bee & Flower), and Thor Harris (Swans, Shearwater, Thor & Friends). What renders Noplace all the more impressive is that it’s an improvised work, recorded in a single day.

As the press release recounts, ‘having known each other for a number of years and previously contributed to one another’s recordings this trio finally came together as a whole on May 7th 2017 at Redrum Studios in Berlin. In a short, improvised session of just a few hours they set about laying down as much material as possible which was then subsequently edited and re-worked (without overdubs) to form this album.’ And the results are quite something, and I very quickly manage to put aside the thought that the cover art reminds me of the film Up, minus the balloons.

Rippling strings quaver over softly swelling undercurrents while rolling percussion provides a subtle, unobtrusive rhythm as ‘Noplace I’ introduces the album before creeping into the darkness f counterpart piece ‘Noplace II’. And yet it’s very much only the beginning: having been moulded post-recording, the album’s seven individual pieces are structured and sequenced so as to lead the listener on an immersive journey which gradually and subtly moves from one place to entirely another.

‘Red Robin’ builds a pulsating, looping groove overlaid with creeping stealth. Its repetitious motif may owe something to the hypnotic cyclical forms of Swans, but its trance-inducing sonic sprawl also alludes to a hypnogogic reimagining of dance music – and this filters into the spacious ‘Noplace III’, which draws together expansive ambience and, in the distance, shuffling, tranced-out beats, to create something that stands in strange, murky Krautrock / dance territory. Yes, it sounds electronic. Yes, it sounds unique, but at the same time, yes, it sounds familiar in terms of the individual genre tropes. It’s ‘place’ is precisely ‘noplace,’ in that it belongs nowhere specific, yet appeals on many different levels and in many different ways.

Interweaving motifs continue to feature in ‘Tin Chapel,’, but the rhythm here is much more prominent, a weighty four-four bass/snare beat driving a linear road through the sweeping, strings that glide from mournful to tense. The locked-in psyche-hued desert rock bass groove pushes the piece forwards, while at the same time holding it firmly in one place. In turn, it tapers into the bleak, murky expanse that is ‘Northplace’.

The final composition, ‘Nighplace’, brings things down and almost full circle as the percussion retreats into the background amidst a wash of elongated drones which ebb and flow softly.

Noplace certainly doesn’t feel improvised, and while it’s remarkably cohesive, as well as possessing a strong sense of structure, it also reveals a remarkable range, both sonically and compositionally. And irrespective of any context, it’s an engaging and immersive aural experience.

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The premise of this collaboration between Aidan Baker and Claire Brentnall of Manchester-based purveyors of ethereal dark pop, Shield Patterns, is neatly summed up in the press release. It’s not an indication of lethargy to quote directly and at length but a recognition of the fact that a label or PR has the best handle on what it’s doing, and is every bit as capable of articulation as a journo. So much so, that there are those who also have a handle on the possessive apostrophe, for which respect is due. So, ‘Delirious Things is an exploration of Aidan Baker’s interest in 80s-influenced cold-wave, shoegaze, and synth-pop from such recording artists as Factory Records’ Durutti Column, Joy Division, and Section 25 and 4AD’s Cocteau Twins and This Mortal Coil’.

‘Combining song-oriented tracks with abstract interludes, the primary instrument on Delirious Things is a 1980s Casio synthesizer, rather than Baker’s usual guitar, though the synth is processed through his usual guitar effect pedals, creating heavy, layered washes of droning synth sounds overlaying electronic rhythms and pulsing bass lines. Baker is joined by guest vocalist Claire Brentnall, whose voice is reminiscent of Liz Fraser and Kate Bush but still distinctly her own.’

It’s a curiously hushed, tempered work and it’s the overall sense of quietness which is its most striking feature. We live in a loud world. As I noted when reviewing Jeffrey Roden’s Threads of a Prayer – Volume 1, I find it increasingly difficult to find the time and space to listen to quieter, more contemplative music: the ‘noise’ of the fast-paced society in which we now live is no longer a metaphor, and it’s evermore difficult to find a moment’s peace, metaphorically or literally. I’m not in a position to offer empirical evidence to substantiate the correlation between the pace and volume of life with the increasing prevalence of mental health issues because I’m a) a lazy journalist b) too busy to invest time on such detours while researching album c) struggling with my own anxieties (aren’t we all in our various ways, whether we admit it or not?). All that said, it’s perhaps also worth noting that despite the bewildering quantity of releases I receive to review, either physically or digitally, the number of works which dare to explore such low volume registers are few and far between. This means that while often being barely audible in some settings, such releases stand out alone by virtue of their difference. But, significantly, Delirious Things also stands out on merit.

Delirious Things is an album which is rich in atmosphere, but there’s something about it which feels uncomfortable and radiates a subtle but inescapable sense of discomfort. It takes a while to ascertain precisely what it is that’s awkward and vaguely discombobulating about it. Superficially, the songs are spacious, atmospheric dreamworks, th tructures loosely defined, the sounds partially abstract, the emotions they convey as fleeting and ephemeral as the recollection of the sensations and images of a dream on waking.

There’s an icy fragility about the songs, and Brentnall’s breathy vocals – as much reminiscent of Cranes’ Alison Shaw and Toni Halliday of Curve as the common touchstones of PJ Harvey and Kate Bush – are captivating yet, at the same time, also subliminal in their power. Laid down in layer upon harmonising layer, her voice is everywhere, and drifts from every corner of the music and even the silence between the sounds. This is nowhere more true than on the album’s vaporous final track, ‘Shivering’, which delicately glides beneath the skin and brushes at the bones and the soft matter beneath. The funereal ‘Dead Languages’ has echoes of late Joy Division or Movement era New Order, and distils its sonic elements to a stark minimalism that’s spine-tinglingly powerful.

 

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Beneath the surface, ripples of tension radiate and currents of darkness surge, silently but powerfully. Baker utilises stereo panning to optimal effect and subtle details like a fractional lag between beats across the left and right channels are incredibly effective, particularly when listening through headphones (which is strongly advised, because it facilitates optimal appreciation of the detail, while also reducing the bled of noise from the outside world, be it the babble of work colleagues, the hum of the boiler or the whirr of the laptop fan: reducing extraneous interference is essential in order to absorb the meticulous detail of this album). There are fractional delays between some of the beats between the channels. The effect is barely perceptible, but nevertheless a tiny bit disorientating. Of course, once you’ve noticed this, you can’t unnoticed. It’s impossible to tune out. But tuning in and embracing the It’s when one begins to look closer into the album’s detail that its true magic discloses itself.

On the surface, it’s a collection of quiet, calm, opiate-slow songs with a misty, hazy quality. How does this, and the referencing of the Cocteau Twins reconcile with 80s-influenced cold-wave, shoegaze, and synth-pop? Again, it’s in the detail: Delirious Things incorporates stylistic elements of all of the above, but reconfigures them, so, so carefully. The album’s success lies in the way it draws together recognisable genre trappings and familiar stylistic tropes and renders them in a fashion which is similar enough to be still familiar and yet different enough so as to be unfamiliar. What is different about this? you will likely ask yourself. In the mixing – the pitching of the beats way down in the mix, the way in which the sound is scaled down and paired back and stripped out of made for radio / iPod compression and exists with a very different set of production values. This gives Delirious Things a feeling of freshness, and ultimately renders it a triumph of artistic vision over commercial conformity.

 

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Gizeh Records – GZH70 –4th November 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Aiden Baker’s name features on a staggering number of releases, and while Nadja – the duo consisting of Baker and bassist Leah Buckareff – may only be one of many side-projects, the discography they’ve amassed since 2003 is substantial, to say the least. On The Stone is Not Hit by the Sun, Nor Carved With a Knife, they offer three immense ambient doom tracks which make for a welcome addition to that discography.

‘The Stone’ opens the album with a deep, slow bass. A delicate guitar is soon obliterated in a deluge of overdrive. Over the course of the track’s imposing twenty-two minutes, they build a pounding groove, the drum machine and bass in combination emphasising the heavy rhythms. Baker’s vocals are low in the mix, and with the textured, picked guitar chords, they straddle the grinding abrasion of Godflesh and the majestic shoegaze of Jesu. The contrast between the mechanical, industrial drum sound and the rich, organic sound of the guitar is integral to the sound, while the space between the notes is a core aspect of the composition: the stop / start mid-section of ‘The Stone’ jars the senses.

‘The Sun’ provides the album’s colossal, megalithic centrepiece. It takes its time to rise, and a steady, soft, meandering clean guitar and gentle, reverb-heavy vocal owes more to psychedelia and shoegaze than ambient or doom. But there’s a simmering tension that builds slowly but surely. The textures and tones gradually transition from clean to distorted, before drifting out into an extended ambient segment. Yawning drones roll and rumble: these are vast expanses of sound, twisting out toward an infinite horizon. And when the guitar and bass return, it’s with an even greater, more crushing force. The drums are distant, partially submerged by the snarling, thunderous bass and immense guitar which carries the listener on am oceanic expanse of sound.

A subtle, amorphous drone hovers atmospherically through the final track,’ Knife’. Arguably the album’s most ‘pure’ ambient passage, it’s hushed, mellow, almost soporific and marks a real contrast with the previous two tracks. There’s a part of me that, on first hearing, found ‘Knife’ a shade disappointing in context of the album as a whole: ‘The Stone’ and ‘The Sun’ set a certain expectation that, at some point, devastatingly heavy, thunderous bass, crashing drums and cinematic drone guitar will hit like a landslide, but it simply doesn’t happen. However, on reflection – and this is an album which requires much reflection – it’s a well-judged change of form. In confounding expectation on the final track, Nadja show that they’re not tied to formula.

In exploring the contrasts of volume, texture and mood, The Stone is Not Hit by the Sun, Nor Carved With a Knife is a more considered and ultimately rewarding work.

 

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