Everytime Aidan Baker seems headed for a major breakthrough and immanent stardom, he comes up with a surprising twist or an edgey turnabout to his sound. Two of his more recent albums, “Scalpel” on The Kora Records and “Green and Cold” on Gears of Sand, were born from a womb of dark poetry, effervescent melodies and fragile folk harmonies. Langurous, mysterious and all the while accessible in their diverting medley of drones and songs, his hazy psychedelics were grounded in the thick fumes of opium dens and the serene and controlled depression of the blues – a potent cocktail for sure.
All Baker would have had to do was simply follow up on these completely unique efforts with minute variations of the same formula to inflate album sales. As it turns out with “A Bout de Souffle”, however, that is the last thing he wants to do. A collaboration with durable Canadian experimental underground player Jakob Thiesen, who already manned the decks on “Nadja & Fear Falls Burning”, the album marks a return of sorts to the dreamy Post-Krautrock of “Thoughtspan”, while lifting Baker’s Guitar inventions to a lucid plateau of great coherence and many different associations.
Of course, “A Bout de Souffle” is neither a revolution nor a complete break with tradition. Like most of Baker’s output, it makes use of the ever-so-slight sonic impurities, all but imperceptible out-of-tunes and minute, malleable mistakes of a live recording to produce fertile musical manur for cleverly crafted studio arrangements. As always, forwards- and backwards loops are running in sync and rhythms develop a grinding groove, even though they seem to be made up of various, counterproductive impulses all running at their own speed.
The album feeds from the intuitive power and improvisational prowess of “a few sporadic sessions” recorded in Toronto over the course of last year. Thiesen’s Drums come magically and seamlessly welling up from underneath Baker’s dense net of threedimensional Guitars and elastic Bass motives, as if the percussionist at an impromptu gig had turned up late and were slowly finding his way into the set. Minimalistically concentrated and sometimes using nothing but sparse HiHat figures, his style is marked by a cool Jazz touch, infusing the material with a soft-soled Swing.
On the other hand, the record regularly ventures into some of the most futuristic and electronica-minded territory these two protagonists have ever set foot in: “The End of Breath” is an airy soundscape of blurred outlines, undulating shapes and distant sighs, an unruly yet somehow pleasant vision. Opener “Breather”, meanwhile, recreates the feeling of deep atmospherics speared by delicate field-recordings, a quiet and warm piece of metaphorical Pink Floydean ambient replete with simmering tension and sinisterly seductive textures.
It is not just the absence of vocals which makes the will to go beyond formulism apparent. On “Breathless”, the duo first builds a mesmerising soundscape from intertwined lines of Acoustic Guitar string semblances, gradually disassembles it and then makes it rise like a twin-headed apocalyptic phoenix from industrial debris. Baker errupts like an approaching Tsunami, Thiesen’s morse code turns more threatening and insistent with every beat and yet just when you think the big David Gilmour solo is coming up, they tear down their regal hymn with a single scream of feedback.
Sometimes the complete negation of expecations can be tiring, but on most occasions, this expeditious spirit turns “A Bout de Souffle” into a grandiose and captivating excursion.
By Tobias Fischer