Baja: Aether Obelisk
Other Electricities

Aether Obelisk, Daniel Vujanic's fourth Baja release, is unquestionably multi-hued in the generous assortment of genres that appears within his suite-like compositions. Instrumentally, too, the album's sound is rich, even if its full ensemble sound is a tad deceiving; guests do contribute vocals and acoustic guitar here and there but the majority of the material is performed by Vujanic, naturally, who contributes a mini-orchestra's worth of sounds to the fifty-minute collection (vocals, guitars, piano, bass, synths, percussion, accordion, glockenspiel, programming, etc.), plus Heiner Stilz (baritone and tenor saxes, clarinet, flute, keyboards) and Daniel Kartmann (vibes, drums).

An almost prog-like intricacy characterizes some of the writing, as does a dizzying, rather ADD-like tendency to shift gears within a given song (“The Fever Almanach aka Catscratchcatscratch,” for instance, segues from vocal intro to melancholy woodwinds passage to acoustic folk meditation and finally billowing electroacoustic set-piece). That isn't uncommon when we're dealing with material that involves both live playing by real musicians and laptop programming where the composer—Vujanic, in this case—can so liberally move bits and pieces around. While the guitar-bass-drums interplay that dominates the first half of “Be Quick, Be Quiet and Mean” suggests it could pass for a flirtatious stab at post-rock, its upbeat second half distances itself from the association. The left-field detours taken by the vocalists (Daniel and Mariana Vujanic) and instruments during “Graph-Vlak” calls to mind the similarly unpredictable turns Frank Zappa's music often takes. In a track such as “Tropenfage,” which seems to change personality every few seconds, one wishes the material would settle down long enough for it to establish a coherent identity (a problem in some of Zappa's music too). “The Aether Obelisk (Supertouch My Heart)” likewise suffers from the same sort of overkill when it undergoes a wardrobe change for every minute of its ten-minute running time. All of which makes Aether Obelisk an occasionally frustrating listen since it's clear that there's no shortage of ideas in play but that their effectiveness is subverted when so many are vying for position, and that's especially a shame when some beautiful moments (such as the graceful woodwinds section that ends “The Aether Obelisk (Supertouch My Heart)” threaten to get lost in the process. “Kitten (Chaos & Numerology),” by comparison, satisfies so much more precisely because Vujanic allows its languorous free-floating vibe—rather Tortoise-like, in fact, in its coupling of jazzy flute and vibes—to extend for the track's full four-minute duration. Hopefully next time the ideas will be given a chance to breathe longer before ceding their spots to others.

March 2009