Aidan Baker: Lost in the Rat Maze
ConSouling Sounds

One might think it would be hard for someone as ultra-prolific as Aidan Baker to come up with something new to say. After all, the Canadian musician (currently shuttling between Toronto and Berlin bases) has issued numerous albums as a solo artist and with the groups Nadja, Arc, and Whisper Room, with more than sixty releases listed at Discogs as of this writing (three recent ones include 2010's Liminoid / Lifeforms on Alien8Recordings, and 2009's Dry and Blue Figures on Install and Basses Frequences, respectively). But while many of those releases find him using electric guitar as his primary instrument in contexts that range from experimental doom-and-drone to ambient post-rock, Lost in the Rat Maze opts for a slightly different twist on the Baker sound. This one's an extended dreamscape of sorts though not an entirely ambient one, as beats float through the multi-layered mix alongside hushed voices and assorted other sounds. As such, the album's material inhabits an interzone that draws upon ambient and post-rock elements in equal measure and weaves them into a fifty-four-minute mix. But while the eight parts do form an uninterrupted whole, the parts, while sharing a general level of haziness, nevertheless define themselves as distinct entitites, with each reaching a state of resolution before ceding the spotlight to the next.

In “Prelude,” gentle piano playing emerges from a watery fog as a multitude of textures gradually accumulate around it. After three minutes, the piano is barely audible, buried as it is under a thick stream of flikcering, humming sound. The title track perpetuates the hazy dreaminess of the opener, this time adding Baker's soft murmur to the mix. In this second stage of the trip, phasing treatments and simple hi-hat and drum patterns stand out from the smudged whole. The material grows heavier during “Fanciful Flights” as the drums contribute a more forceful attack but the bottom end is leavened by the dense swirl of vocal murmurs and especially the prominent presence of flute playing. As might be expected, “Breakbeat” is comparatively more turbulent in spirit, as drums catapult in multiple directions while an organ drone acts as a stabilizing anchor. That uptempo drive carries over into “Corridors of Funk,” which, admittedly, is powered by beats that are more about lockstep forward motion than funk per se. Wrapped in a blanket of haze and flickering voice fragments and textures, “Feathery Fingers” ends the album much as it began. A sense of measured control pervades the project's material such that, even though contrasts emerge from one part to the next, an even flow extends throughout. That detail alone helps make Lost in the Rat Maze one of Baker's most accessible releases and thus an ideal entry point for anyone new to his work.

March 2011