Aidan Baker | The Forever Tapes
Broken Spine Productions (CS/DL)
Guitarist and composer Aidan Baker has one of those discographies that make you feel tired when you examine the sheer girth of it. Known primarily for his work with ambient doom duo Nadja, Baker has traversed just about every cranny of the experimental and ambient worlds in a career spanning over 50 albums and closing in on 20 years. I first encountered Baker’s world with his Nadja work, spending time with their albums released on such stalwart avant labels as the sadly defunct Alien8, The End and Important imprints.
For his September release on the Broken Spine label, Baker gives us not one but THREE different versions of The Forever Tapes. The 10 song album released in a cassette format of 50 also comes as the full album in ambient mode and another version of extended mixes with each song nearing the 60 minute mark. Musically the album showcases the many different facets of Baker’s persona and influences covering ground from electronica, krautrock to drone and trance.
Initially when you put the album on and the opening track starts playing, with shimmering hi hats, melodic keyboards and light touches of guitar accentuation on the track. To keep things slightly off, there are eerie drones and Baker’s whispered vocals simmering towards the top of the mix but under the other instruments. My first reaction to the music was “This is music for driving. Late at night, down a country road, going fast and going nowhere. The window down, cigarette lit and this song as the soundtrack to that.” Imagine my delight when I went to check out the track list and this track is titled Night Drive. Credit Baker for giving a sense of feeling and atmosphere to the music. In this way the music reads as cinematic, it is telling a story. Baker’s gift here for relaying the thoughts that he wants to convey to a musical setting is extraordinary.
For the next track Fragmentary Beings, Baker makes an abrupt turn eschewing the pulsing menace of Night Drive to a more vulnerable state both musically and lyrically. Baker sounds like a stripped down Massive Attack on this track with his haunted vocals pushing at the seams of the repetition of skittering electronica.
Primarily a guitarist, one thing Baker does extremely well during the course of the album is to employ just the lightest touches with the guitar. Guitarists are known to be well……showy. With this album Baker knows exactly when to play and even then with the lightest touch. They are accented so perfectly over the keyboards of the next track In The Meadow you almost forget Baker’s main focus is guitar. It is these subtle nods that give the track its life and for most of these songs compositionally speaking, Baker’s subtle hand is exactly what they need.
Industrial elements are present in the next song as Baker shifts course again with a slightly meatier track. Pipes clang over the heaviest drums on the album so far and a funky bass line gives the track some pulse. Groove is not something that has been explored yet on the album and this song does exactly that. Climbing Into Light is all dreamscapes and shadows. A shimmering wave of ambience invites the listener to float along on ethereal waves while Baker’s gentle keyboard stabs and hushed vocals invoke a sense of the erotic. As the track dies away into nothingness, Baker’s vocals echo and slowly fade away for what is the album’s most beautiful moment.
This ending segues perfectly into In And Out Of Darkness as Baker is in full on drone mode employing ghostly organs and light percussive flourishes that dominate the proceedings. The track works as an effort in contrasts. The title implies dealing with the dark as well as the light. The music follows as it is alternately eerie and pretty at the same time. Echoes of Nadja rear their heads for the first time on Angelv. While not entirely metal, the track is easily the hardest, most lively song on the album. Baker’s processed guitar guides the track and the appearance of piano and some excited drum work get the blood pumping. This is the track where the heads are going to nod.
Synaptic Firing recalls what made Night Drive work so well. The faster tempo and Baker’s guitar lines are almost perfect. There is a driving bass that registers so well with the heartbeat of this song. My only complaint on this track and throughout some of the album is the electronic drums. They don’t really work that great on this track. My brain keeps hunting for a proper 4 on the floor beat for this song to go along with the low end of the bass and I’m left wanting. The percussion works fine on the more electronica based tracks and while everything else works on this track the drums just sound….off.
The next track Lurking In Some Corner drives this point home. The electronic drums work much better on this track and the low piano chords give a sense of well…..something lurking in some corner. The cinematic nature of Baker’s songwriting and sense of story are again evident in this track. Baker conveys a feeling of the creepy so well in this song and gives the listener an overall sense of dread and of something bad about to happen.
The album closes with Lost Keys with Baker surprisingly utilizing a jazz guitar riff as a basis for the rest of the song to follow. After all of the different genres he has dipped his toe in over his career and on this release it seems a fitting way to finish the album. The Forever Tapes finds the ever prolific Aidan Baker treading all types of musical ground and is highly recommended. And if you happen to find yourself in need for some road trip music you could always take along the 60 minute version of Night Drive. In fact I am driving across the country in a couple of months, I might just take this bit of advice for myself.