Review Summary: A beautiful ambient work.
Aidan Baker is a remarkably prolific artist, and with every remarkably prolific artist, there’s that age-old argument that just has to come up. Is Baker prolific because he’s an undisputed musical genius? Or is his style of music so simple that it would be hard for him not
to release thirty zillion albums a year? Personally, I find it to be a mixture of both. His drone-metal stuff with Nadja and his ambient work under his own name all pretty much sounds the same, and could be considered “simple”, in a sense. But mostly everything he’s done is solid, and a lot of his albums are excellent, some verging on perfect. I guess it’s sort of hard to tell.
At the Fountain of Thirst
was recorded during one of these prolific streaks, way back in 2003, when Baker’s music started gaining attention. While Nadja records are heavy and crushing, and are often exercises in dynamics and epic build-ups, Baker’s solo work is more simple and ambient in nature and design. At the Fountain
doesn’t try to reverse this trend. The songs here don’t really move around much, choosing to stay limited within their framework of repetitive synth strokes and other simplistic yet effective electronic devices. The result is a more calming album, one that is more structured and simple than most of Nadja’s releases, but also digs down with more emotion. Plus, like the best ambient albums, At the Fountain of Thirst
strikes a variety of moods within its compositions. If you look towards the third track on the album, titled “Lorelei”, you’ll find the best example of this. The track’s pulsating synths are airy and calming, but random crashes of Nadja-light feedback are more eerie and foreboding than relaxing. These little additions, like the bursts of feedback, Baker makes with the track alters the mood, and makes it more interesting and demanding another listen. The track lasts a pretty lengthy sixteen minutes, but it speeds by. On the other side of length spectrum is “Undine”, which is the shortest track on the album; it is also the best. Consisting of layers of fast moving clicks--for lack of a better word, we’ll call the sound “clicks” for now--with breathless synths floating over weightlessly above, “Undine” is easily more beautiful than anything Sigur Ros or Explosions in the Sky could do, and yet barely anyone has ever heard the song. Words can barely even describe how refreshed you feel after listening to it.
Not every track is this engaging, however. At the Fountain
opens on an especially sour note, as “Melusine” is so redundant that a simultaneously eerie and heavenly feeling that you begin to achieve after the first six minutes starts to condense into boredom. Listening to this album, though, you can tell that Baker doesn’t really care what we, the listeners, actually think. These tracks are obviously created for his own benefit, for him to pore out his emotions into lengthy ambient compositions, and we’re just lucky enough to be brought along for the ride. At the Fountain of Thirst
can be inconsistent, especially near the beginning, but it’s certainly an experience to be relished when listened to in full.