Aidan Baker & thisquietarmy: Orange

It goes without saying that Canadian guitarists Aidan Baker and Eric Quach are well-known quantities in this neck of the woods. We've covered Baker's music in various incarnations during the past few years, whether heard in solo or group (Nadja, for instance) settings, and Quach, of course, not only performs under the thisquietarmy guise but also as one-half of Mains de Givre, whose debut album, Esther Marie, textura was proud to release in 2010. Orange came into being after the two shared a 2005 bill with their respective bands (Mnemosyne and Destroyalldreamers, for the record) and proceeded to exchange sound files through the mail that were mixed by Quach in Montreal during 2006 and issued in 2007 as a half-hour EP on TQA Records in a limited edition of 200 CD-R copies (the two also issued A Picture of A Picture on Killer Pimp in 2009). The 2011 Orange is an expanded, re-edited, and remastered version that includes four extra tracks from the original sessions, effectively transforming the release into a full-fledged, forty-seven-minute album.

The set's an exercise in deep moodscaping, inhabited by drifting slabs of billowing, cloud-like mists and rumbling reverberance. There's heavily textured dronescaping in play, of course, but the two players—immensely complementary it should be noted, as their contributions meld together ever so naturally—also push the music into kosmische territory. In such moments, whatever effects the two are applying to their guitars make the instruments seem more like whooshing synthesizers of a rather vintage sort than six-strings per se. After “Agent” sets a dramatic deep space tone for the recording, “Mandarin” pulls the intensity back a few degrees by soothing us with warm, becalmed tones and shadings. Anyone who thinks guitar soundscapers such as Baker and Quach eschew restraint and delicacy in their playing will be very much otherwise enlightened after hearing “Mandarin.” Of course, the music moves through various moods as it carves its uninterrupted path through the eight tracks, so no one should be too surprised to hear the subsequent piece, “Clockwork,” swell into a volcanic colossus of ear-splitting proportions.

Lest anyone think a separation might be present between the original material and newly added pieces, the fourth flows into the fifth just as seamlessly as all of the others. Like a plane engine so heavily amplified and treated it becomes pure distortion, “Amplifier” churns with an industrial-strength intensity, after which “Crush” offers a beatific resting place. At album's end, “Glow” returns us to a state of scalding, white-hot blaze, before “Milk” eases us out, leaving a vanishing trail as it scuttles off into the galaxial distance as it does so. Orange is the sound of two players merging their talents in egoless manner to create a shape-shifting travelogue through the upper reaches. The mere fact that the listener never becomes cognizant of one player ever standing out from the other is a testament to just how thoroughly their respective contributions blend throughout the recording.

May 2011