Review Summary: more than simply another wave in Baker's sea of releases
To label the Canadian experimental artist “prolific” would be a gross understatement that minimizes Aidan Baker’s contributions to drone, ambient, noise, and all-around minimalist music. Largely improvised, his style is experimental, but never sloppy. Baker is deliberate in whatever he does. While his body of work is, almost inevitably, full of some works that miss the mark and some that near perfection, it’s impossible not to admire what seems to be a true artist at work, for lack of a better descriptor. On his latest effort under his own name, Aidan strikes a different chord - this time in the post-rock arena - and it resonates as deeply as anything he’s released in the past.
Previously, Aidan Baker focused on swells of repetition to establish moods of melancholy, and through minimalism he crafted deep, ethereal sounds that do wonders to establish a mood, an atmosphere. While I won’t claim that his work is the apex of ambient, there’s a case to be made that through his humongous body of work he has located and characterized the aims and meaning of ambient, of drone, by releasing album after album that seem to vary little in terms of actual execution.
But those that criticize him for this continuous stream of releases - “one of those artists that feels the need to release every noodling session he undergoes” - are missing the point. Baker’s work exists as a perfect microcosm for the genres which he inhabits. Ambient doesn’t make its mark by grandiose statements and loud, drastic changes in tenor, but rather by carefully and methodically revealing layer after layer, transporting listeners to a mood or an aura.
It’s odd that I speak so highly of the Canadian’s methods above, because Already Drowning
is a brave step to the left of the ground he usually calls home. Not only is there more melody and structure to the tracks, but on each Baker is accompanied by a different woman, singing in a daze to Baker’s compositions. Already Drowning
centers around the myths of female water spirits. Naturally, the albums has a tide-like flow to it, transitioning gracefully from one track and one singer to the next. All the while, Baker tastefully implements elements of post-rock and slowcore into his usually-minimalist mix.
For instance, the most acute crescendo appears near the beginning of “Tout Juste Sous La Surface Je Guette (feat. Geneviève Castrée).” Again, the composition of the track buttresses the notion that Aidan, while employing post-rock sentiments for his purposes, is still employing wholly outside of the genre. While many of the other tracks are more subtle in their swells and valleys, the texture of his songs here are much more animate. Each woman breathes fresh life into the song, yet Aidan retains a stoic presence throughout by providing the backbone of alternating ambience and tangible, manifest harmony that meshes perfectly with the soft whispers and crooning. The guitars and strings, like in the beautiful “30 Days / 30 Nights (feat. Jessica Bailiff)” especially, paint a palette that alternates between purples and greys, transitioning between the calm of emptiness and grace, as personified by the lush tones.
It’s difficult to say where Aidan’s next foray will take his sound, but Already Drowning
is proof enough that he can apply his well-refined dynamic and recognizable personality towards the softer territory of post-rock (as he demonstrated that he could master the heavier spectrum with Nadja) and still manage to create one of his most gratifying albums yet. It’s odd to note that, for an artist with such an illustrious catalog, the most exciting experiments may still lie ahead, but that’s the case with Aidan.