Aidan Baker - Already Drowning - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Aidan Baker - Already Drowning

by Steve Rhodes Rating:9.5 Release Date:2013-04-15

Canadian-born but German-residing multi-instrumentalist Aidan Baker has been prolific over the years, as part of experimental groups Nadja, ARC and Mnemosyne, but even more so as a solo artist, releasing a whole host of largely improvised albums of drone, space-rock and experimental music, focussing mainly on his often unusual guitar-playing. His first release for the excellent Gizeh Records guests a different female vocalist for each track, which simultaneously adds significant variety to the components of Already Drowning, but maintains a consistent feel to an excellent, cohesive record.

Opener 'Already Drowning' features the vocals of Clara Engel, with a deep Patti Smith tone at first. It's a hushed and slow number, at a similar pace and texture to Codeine and Rothko, with barely used drums, guitar and bass providing the backing. Lyrics such as, "The station is near empty but it's easy to remain unnoticed" add to the sombre tone, but the track starts to change, with the title being sung more operatically and the words becoming more spoken while the song slowly builds. A very interesting, minimal beginning with an impressive vocal range which leads into a noisier but blissful, climatic, fuzzed-up finish.

'30 Days / 30 Nights', featuring the drone and noise-specialist Jessica Bailliff, builds on the promising start, again taking a slow pace but with a larger use of strings and piano in the foreground, backing Jessica's spoken-word vocal, at times reminiscent of M83's dreamy 'Highway of Endless Dreams' or a more symphonic Meanwhile Back in Communist Russia. The introduction of choral samples, in the realms of Slowdive's 'Souvlaki', adds enormous weight to the track, a gorgeous song which again is not in a hurry, but why should it when it's as glorious as this.

'Melusine' feels more at home with some of Aidan's earlier experimental releases, with dual vocals buried deep in echo and the song drenched in atmosphere and allure. In tune with some of the more electronic tendencies of Hood, the song feels dissociative and fractured, but doesn't suffer for it. 'Lorelei / Common Tongue' takes experimentation even further, with a more disturbing angle. Carla Bozulich's heavier spoken-word vocal is joined by an deeply distorted, almost desperate vocal, buried as background chatter, and is perfectly aligned with the woodwind and sample-heavy backing. A bleak, often unsettling song which still packs an emotional punch.

In contrast 'Mein Zeilling, Mein Verlorener' has an acoustic guitar at it's centre, backing Joanna Kupnicka's breathy Germanic vocal, with a strong lean towards a soft Joni Mitchell. The track slowly introduces flute, accordian, bass and drums, adding depth to the acoustic opening. It touches on Novak and 'Willow's Song' from The Wicker Man and is a great, organic folkier counterpoint to some of more experimental numbers.

Similarly, 'Ice' is a direct, somewhat conventional song which shares a folk lineage. Picastro's Liz Hysen provides a range of vocal styles, from a mantric narrative to a restrained, choral offering as the song expands and the instrumentation loudens, taking on more of a lean towards prog and then post-rock. Like Mercury Rev at their earliest and maddest, it is an excellent song, awash with ideas that feel on the brink of collapse, but is far too strong for that.

The highlight of Already Drowning is 'Tout Juste Sous La Surface, Je Guette', where a looped guitar-riff, lightly-touched strings and distant percussion and electronics allow the strong, French-language vocals of Genevieve Castree to shine, like a darker version of Stina Nordenstam. The song builds, with the noise and volume sharply increasing in time, adding strong distortion to the guitars and apocalyptic strings, but without overwhelming the track. Like Low mixed with a shriek-less Diamanda Gallas or Viva La Fete, it is a wonderful song which perfectly uses quiet and loud dynamics while maintaining a dark edge.

The use of different vocalists can sometimes hinder the cohesiveness of a record, but with Already Drowning, it effortlessly supplements the instrumentation, nature and ideas. With this release, Aidan has produced a startling, perfectly-structured album full of changes in style and texture, an absolute gem of a record that will hypnotise and entrance you. Go seek it out.

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