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Bitchin Bajas
Bajas Fresh Ned Raggett , November 15th, 2017 10:47

Chicago’s answer to Pink Floyd? Maybe, kinda.

A few weeks back I finally got around to watching and listening to last year’s Pink Floyd boxset, focusing on the band’s first years until just before The Dark Side Of The Moon. It’s obviously a reach to say that the keyboard experimentalists Bitchin Bajas have a parallel career so far, but there is one spot of connection. In much the same way that Pink Floyd spent much of their early days doing everything from commissioned film soundtracks to a variety of artistic collaborations, Bitchin Bajas have spent the three years since their last formal, self-titled release on Drag City doing similarly. There’s been a collaboration for a film soundtrack with Olivia Wyatt, two other full collaborations with Natural Information Society and Bonnie Prince Billy, and various combined tours, one-offs and more - even a live performance of Terry Riley’s minimalist touchstone ‘In C.’

Not that Cooper Crain, Dan Quinlivan and Rob Frye are about to release an album with a prism on it or a double album about the sad rock star lifestyle (as far as I know). But their latest, Bajas Fresh, is a double album if you snag the vinyl, and in any format it shows that this group holds their own in the 21st century return to space rock and analogue synthesizer aesthetics. ‘Jammu,’ the lengthy opening number, might be the most explicit nod to both mystic and rocknroll pasts thanks to its Himalayan-referencing title, but the sense is one of renewed exploration rather than re-creation. Three performers test possibilities, as one core propulsive figure blends into another while deeper textures underlay the whole.

From there Bajas Fresh moves through a series of shorter and longer compositions, including a striking cover of Sun Ra’s ‘Angels and Demons at Play’, retaining the feeling of a one-take journey that was found rather than created. Where the band’s earlier work would suggest its inspirations in sequencer-driven acts from the 70s into the 80s, by this point Bitchin Bajas are settled into their own core sound. The trio are able to deliver various sonic twists - the sudden change towards the end of ‘Circles on Circles’ or the clattering percussion by guest Nori Tanaka.

Meanwhile, various further outside appearances - including, very notably, underground legend Masaki Batoh on guitar - fleshes out various approaches without losing the band’s electronic identity. Even something that could be considered more of a ‘classic’ approach, as heard on the sun-dappled rising flow of ‘2303,’ has all kinds of frayed edges and gentle bursts, including an understated live drum conclusion, to underscore the band’s softly roiling sound. At their most free-floating and understated, Bitchin Bajas almost casually demonstrate how apparent serenity still provides room for subtle explorations, additions to the predominant flow heightening the overall mood.