Aidan Baker: Already Drowning
Gizeh Records

Aidan Baker: Aneira
Glacial Movements

Two dramatically contrasting sides of Aidan Baker are documented on these concurrently released full-lengths on Gizeh and Glacial Movements, the former a vocal-and-song-based affair that sees Baker welcoming contributions from a number of guest artists and the latter a single-track, long-form ambient soundscape work that uses acoustic guitar as the sole sound source.

Already Drowning, a song-cycle drawn from various myths and folktales (including A. S. Byatt's Possession and Philip K. Dick's The Dark Haired Girl), complements its vocal diversity—each of its seven pieces features a different female presence—with instrumental richness, much of it coming from Baker himself (who's credited with guitars, bass, flute, drums, trombone, piano, and field recordings), as well as accordionist Leah Buckareff, violinist Laura C. Bates, cellist Nick Storring, trumpeter Carl Pace, and saxophonist Laura Rodie.

Things get off to a haunting start when Clara Engel adds her desperate voice to the title track's doom-laden crawl. Her high-pitched cry of the song's title is certainly one of the album's most memorable elements, and Engel's story-like account meshes well with the deep smolder of Baker's fuzz-toned guitar, too. Jessica Bailiff's ethereal presence gives the already uplifting “30 Days/30 Nights” additional allure, as does its prominent deployment of strings and flute resources. Joanna Kupnicka's soft voice blends well into the acoustic folk arrangement Baker gives to “Mein Zwilling, Mein Verlorener,” whereas “Mélusine” proves to be more atmospheric in design when the voices of Valérie Niederoest and Maude Oswald spread themselves across flurries of guitar haze, ride cymbals, and snares. While the album is often laid-back, moments of greater intensity do arise. Without deviating from the overall downtempo style, “Tout juste sous la surface, je guette” (aided by Geneviève Castrée's singing) works up a powerful slow-burn, as does “Lorelei / Common Tongue” in large part due to the participation of Carla Bozulich (Evangelista).

It's a consistently absorbing recording and one deserving of recommendation for the concept alone. English, French, and German lyrics give Already Drowning a cosmopolitan tone, and Baker also strikes a satisfying balance between vocal and instrumental sounds by ensuring that the latter dimension is as fully realized as the vocal one. His decision to eschew pauses between the songs also proves to be a smart move, as the uninterrupted flow reinforces the song-cycle impression. One caveat, though: one wishes Baker might have handed the drum chair over to a more accomplished player as Baker's playing is serviceable but not distinguished (something most audible during “Ice”).

An entirely different Baker is captured on Aneira (Welsh for ‘snow'), though the mere fact of it being issued on Glacial Movements would imply as much to listeners familiar with the label's output. Recorded at Broken Spine Studios in Berlin, the single-track, forty-eight-minute work features Baker solo and was produced in its entirety using nothing more than an acoustic twelve-string as the sound-generating source. Of course, the playing was subjected to radical processing and manipulation treatments, and as a result the recording is anything but a conventional set of acoustic guitar playing. The instrument's sound is transformed into icy micro-slivers, the music's textural design in keeping with the wintry theme conveyed by the title. In fact, the guitar's sound is altered so consistently throughout the piece that the sudden appearance of recognizable plucks and strums at the forty-minute mark comes as a bit of a shock. Though unexpected, his decision to shift the focus in said manner during the work's closing minutes proves to be a smart one, and it especially seems so when its resolution is reached with a single, lovely strum.

The mood is, naturally, wintry: bleak and introspective, the material conjures the image of someone taking shelter from the sub-zero temperature outside and gazing through frosted, ice-encrusted windows at the slow and relentless accumulation of snow. The music mutates slowly, swelling in size from tendrils to sheets such that, seventeen minutes into the piece, the material more suggests the quiet creak of ice floes breaking apart in the wake of spring's arrival. The words immersive and hypnotic can't help but come to mind as one accompanies Baker on this extended foray into shivering ambient-drone drift and textural soundsculpting.

Already Drowning and Aneira are both high quality additions to what is at this stage a rather staggering discography of releases by the Canadian-born and now Berlin-based Baker. As a side note, it's wonderful to see this ever-prolific creator (who's published books of poetry as well as music) becoming an ever more familiar name in the experimental music scene (whether solo or as part of the duo Nadja) and to see his work bring presented on so many different labels. Baker has worked tirelessly on a huge range of projects for a good many years now, and the evidence at hand suggests that the hard work is paying off.

May 2013