The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Reviews

Aidan Baker
The Confessional Tapes JR Moores , March 2nd, 2015 15:07

Aidan Baker's made more albums than I've had hot dinners. The Canadian polymath is best known for Nadja, his drone duo with Leah Buckareff. I say "drone" - their music is prone to veering slowly off into shoegaze, ambient, post-rock, dreamsludge, murky krautrock, semi-industrio-catnap-metal or whatever direction takes their fancy. I say "duo" – their records sometimes involve collaborators (2012's Dagdrom with Jesus Lizard's Mac McNeilly, for example). There are many sides to Nadja, though few of them painted in the kind of life-affirming shade that might adorn the cover of The Little Book Of Mindful Chirpiness. Nadja titles include 'Dark Circles', 'Slow Loss', 'Bliss Torn From Emptiness' and 'You Are As Dust'.

Baker has also released albums with ARC and as Mnemosyne and collaborated with the likes of thisquietarmy, A-Sun Amissa and Tim Hecker. He also has a kosmische/spacerock side-project called Caudal. There are countless solo albums, too (not to mention "several books of poetry"). Like Nadja, his solo stuff is also playfully varied, despite following a loosely consistent melancholic path. They've included ambient/post-rock/classical mash-ups, minimal mellow drone-jazz, scratchy aural collages, experimental guitar music produced without any electronic effects, a collection of "loop studies" and one 97-track double-album featuring 18 different drummers. I really don't know when Baker finds the time to eat, sleep or grow such a distinctive beard.



Baker's latest effort is one of his more song-orientated collections. At the same time, it is so firmly experimental that if you didn't know anything about the making of this record, you might think you'd been flogged a faulty copy and march virtually back to your MP3-monger of choice demanding a full refund and a grovelling email apology. 

Baker started working on these songs several years ago in Toronto but then - oh crumbs! - his sodding hard drive only went and crashed, didn't it? He managed to recover some of the files but they'd become all "corrupted and glitchy". At this point, anyone else would've cried into their cereal bowl, had an emotional breakdown, given up on creativity, bought a clipboard and retrained as an HR consultant. But Baker is no ordinary person, which is why he dusted himself off from this unfortunate setback and turned adversity into lo-fi-high-triumph. Completing the album in his new home of Berlin, Baker used the malfunctioned, knackered-up audio files as the musical backbone for this collection.



The Confessional Tapes' opener, 'I Want To See (More Of You)', has the sad, fragile vibe of Mogwai's rare sung numbers such as 'Cody' and 'Tuner', albeit with a semi-accidental Pollock-brush of fizzling fucked file noises splattered all over the audio canvas. Is this the post-modern cousin of the old, reassuring vinyl hiss? It isn't as nice or cosy or warm as that. It's more like a mischievous gremlin trying to flatulate its way out of the headphones.



Next is 'Hart', a track which seems to be in a schizophrenic battle over whether it wants to be a shoegaze ballad or an avant-garde sound installation. After that, Baker becomes more adept at assimilating the sounds. Or perhaps the listener just becomes more accustomed to the strange and discomforting snap, crackle and popping of the ever-present glitchery. There are still some jarring moments, mind, such as the sudden loud burst of static that interrupts 'Beneath Which'. 

The second half of the record is particularly strong. There are a couple of pieces that sound like Robert Smith blowing gentle lipsticked raspberries as The Cure play 'A Forest' in an upside-down whirlpool. With its Carpenter/Lynch synths and distressing digital squeals, 'Ambiguities (Longing For An Oblivion)' achieves a real aura of creepy menace - it's like an alien has infected you with a deadly Martian tinnitus. He will give you the antidote, but only if you agree to kill the President. 'Buoyancy' is a twisted slice of looping psych-techno buried under mounds of digital soil. And with its vulnerable piano notes and deep soulful synth chords, the seven-minute 'Spider Naming/Spider Killing' could almost be a vaguer, artier and far darker Moby.



It's not entirely clear what exactly Baker is confessing to on these "confessional tapes". His vocals are whispered, mumbled and usually gagged in white noise. It's like trying to make sense of somebody's incoherent sleep-talk. I think I heard something about a car. At one point he definitely says "coconut sunscreen". It's not about the muzzled lyrics though. What he's really confessing to is being a blooming great sonic maverick. After all, The Confessional Tapes is one of the most interesting ideas this guy's ever had. And this guy's had more interesting ideas than I've had hot dinners. And I've had a lot of hot dinners, I must confess.

If you love our features, news and reviews, please support what we do with a one-off or regular donation. Year-on-year, our corporate advertising is down by around 90% - a figure that threatens to sink The Quietus. Hit this link to find out more and keep on Black Sky Thinking.