Toronto-based composer Aidan Baker carries out a three-fold career:
soundscupting under his own name (using the electric guitar as a primary sound source), progressive-rock in the trio ARC,
doom metal under the moniker Nadja (started in 2003 as a solo project but later
transformed into a duo with bassist Leah Buckareff).
After the tentative Touched (2002),
the minimal glitch soundscapes of
I Fall Into You (Public Eyesore, 2002 - Basses Frequences, 2008)
degraded lullabies of Letters (2002 - Basses Frequences, 2008),
Nadja began to focus on collections of colossal drone-intense jams with the
three juggernauts of Skin Turns to Glass (2003):
the 14-minute Sandskin weaves together thick gritty droning guitar riffs a` la stoner-rock and martial monster beats;
the 18-minute Skin Turns To Glass unleashes superhuman pomp tying horror vocals to a dense boiling flow of minute audio particles (and then slowly but methodically buries everything with a last breath, random piano notes and sparse drumming);
and the 19-minute Slow Loss starts out with a wall of guitar distortions and a booming drumming massacre (but then doesn't quite know what to do and
simply restarts as a sort of slow waltz).
Then came the 21-minute EP I Have Tasted the Fire Inside Your Mouth (2004) marking the transition to pure doom-metal with
a dark glitchy electronic drone from which slowly a giant guitar riff arises
to become a deafening slow-motion panzer ride.
Truth Becomes Death (Alien8, 2005 - Conspiracy, 2008) paired two
contrasting pieces: the relatively quiet
Bug Golem (slow suspenseful crescendo and a catastrophe that
is postponed and postponed, although clearly foretold by every single note)
and the apocalyptic Memory Leak
(an anthemic growling vocal melody wed to an organ raga a` la Terry Riley
amid the usual percussive storm until everything falls apart).
Bodycage (Profound Lore, 2005) did not break new ground but
refined the techniques.
Clinodactyl is an artful demonstration of audio metabolism that leads from cataleptic threnody to majestic symphony.
By Nadja's standards Autosomal is brief (ten minutes) but it is one of
the most powerful pieces, a dense continuous flow of magma that picks up
dissonant evil instincts and voodoo beats along the way.
Ossification does not live up to these two gems: immersed in vast cosmic spaces, littered with radioactive
debris, it eventually stages a half-hearted swirling crescendo.
Bliss Torn from Emptiness (2005) is a 53-minute piece (divided in
three segments only for practical purposes).
The first part (first track plus half of the second) creates vortexes and
them fly away, the thick texture evoking living beings on the run. Massive
drumbeats are artfully injected in the landscape. Soon the scene turns to
a sci-fi nightmare of cyborgs trampling over skyscrapers; and the violence
keeps increasing, the pace speeding up.
This harrowing movement disintegrates in the second part in which precious
little happens for 20 minutes and then what happens is not exactly
revolutionary (just the usual trivial crescendo of noise).
Radiance Of Shadows (Alien8, 2007 - Conspiracy, 2008),
that also includes a new version of I Have Tasted The Fire Inside Your Mouth,
completed the conversion to doom-shoegaze fusion.
The two new monoliths,
Now I Am Become Death The Destroyer Of Worlds,
a crescendo of
distorted mystical guitar drones and hypnotic elephant drumbeats,
and Radiance Of Shadows, a suspended chaos of virulent drum-less guitar
do not hesitate to push the concept to its extreme consequences.
Neither has a real development nor destination: they just reenact themselves
eternally like a Zoroastrian fire.
Thaumogenesis (aRCHIVE, 2007) contains just one 62-minute lungubrious
monster piece for bass, guitar and drum-machine a` la
Sunno)). Gone is the visceral violence,
the shock therapy, of previous droning juggernauts. The music has a
more refined cosmic quality, at times borders on quasi neoclassical,
and the distorted crescendo that marks so much of Nadja's art now evokes
a majestic procession. There is a clear melody inside the massive guitar
riff, driving the repetition and the progression, a fact that makes it sound
"romantic" compared to the onslaughts of the past.
By the end this gentler approach has become melancholy and agonizing, more like
a plantation blues lament than a stoned rock groove; and the final explosion
does not bode well at all, not an expression of ecstasy but rather one of panic.
The EP Guilted By The Sun (Elevation, 2007) introduced a new element:
Guilted is a heavy gothic song that seems to die into a
catatonic section but then stages a spectacular electronic resurrection.
In these works the logic of heavy metal (the heavy riffs) is wed to the logic
of electronic soundsculpting (haunting background soundscapes).
12012291920/ 1414101 (Invada, 2007) and II - Points At Infinity (Profound Lore, 2008) were collaborations with British doom-metal band Atavist.
We Have Departed The Circle Blissfully (Conspiracy, 2006) was a collaboration with Fear Falls Burning.
Trembled (Utech, 2006 - Utech, 2008) documents a live performance.
Touched (Alien8, 2007) is a compilation of old material.
Thaumoradiance (aRCHIVE, 2008 - Broken Spine, 2012) contains (bad) reworkings of Radiance Of Shadows and Thaumogenesis.
Unfortunately, Nadja released dozens of recordings of very mediocre material
instead of releasing just one good album.
Baker's droning/ambient career, released under his own name, began with
tentative works such as
Letters (2002 - Basses Frequences, 2011), an ethereal psalm for guitars, cymbals and vocals,
Songs Of Flowers And Skin (2005 - Beta-Lactam Ring, 2010), a collection of slocore litanies.
Oneiromancer (Die Stadt, 2006) is typical of this naive
Wake Up is musique concrete that eventually populates the empty dark space of marching zombies;
Death Too Wrapped In Dream is electronic dance music for chill-out rooms;
Do You Remember Me (From Your Dreams) is a mix of the two, both sound effects and danceable beats.
One piece stands out and points to the future:
the 17-minute Betes Noires is a slow-morphing organism in a sterilized
alien laboratory (chirping voices surround the drones), and the music
creates suspense via meticulous studio production in a manner akin to
Pink Floyd's Echoes.
Parts of Baker's
Pendulum (Gears Of Sand, 2006), an abstract dronescape in five parts,
are not trivial.
Like many of Baker's compositions, the 17-minute
Centre is a journey, a journey that exhibits extremely slow
progress, materialized in an excruciatingly anemic shift in the tones and
patterns of the drones:
glitches appear, organisms start pulsating, sidereal hisses compete with wolf-like howls, metallic rattles, reverbed dripping, muffled moans and whimpers,
and all of this trapped inside a nerve-wracking sense of desolation.
The ten-minute Everywhere invests in darker, more psychedelic drones
with less movement.
The 15-minute North patiently weaves its web of drones and then, equally
patienty, undoes it.
But then the ambient recordings under Baker's name vastly exceeded Baker's musical gift:
The Sea Swells A Bit (A Silent Place, 2006),
Thoughtspan (Tosom, 2007 - Blackest Rainbow, 2009),
Exoskeleton Heart (Crucial Bliss, 2007),
Broken & Remade (Volubilis, 2007),
Figures (Volubilis, 2007),
Green & Gold (Gears Of Sand, 2007 - Beta-Lactum Ring, 2008), a detour into slocore ballads (with actual singing),
I Will Always And Forever Hold You In My Heart And Mind (Small Doses, 2007), marred by post-rock infections,
Orange (Thisquietarmy, 2007), a collaboration with Thisquietarmy, i.e. Eric Quach,
An Open Letter To Franz Kafka (Laughing Bride Media, 2007) with Beta Cloud, i.e. Carl Pace (Baker on flute, Beta Cloud on trumpet, synth and guitar),
Nagual (aRCHIVE, 2007) with Todd Merrell or Patrick Jordan,
Again, being prolific is not a good strategy for being great.
Most of the music is a rather monotonous experience that requires a lot of
patience (and tolerance for amateurish ideas).
The 50-minute symphony of
Noise Of Silence (Hyperblasted, 2007 - Essence Music, 2011), however,
is one of
the best Baker's abstract soundscapes: a polished pulsating timbre, subterranean hisses, eerie whispers,
sinewave of sharp bowl-like drones, more whispers that slowly turn into shouting and merge with infernal electronic sounds, explosions, a chaos of voices, and finally 18 minutes of very slow decay.
The 20-minute solo guitar improvisation Fragile Moments In Slow Motion (Universal Tongue, 2008) and the
Live From The Rotunda (Philadelphia, PA, February 2007) (Gears Of Sand, 2008) continued
Aidan Baker's drone-oriented program, while
Scalpel (The Kora, 2008) seemed to open a new direction with its
gentle folkish approach (the guitar sounding like a guitar and not like an
I Wish Too To Be Absorbed (Important, 2008) is a
double-disc anthology of Aidan Baker rarities from 2000-07.
Baker's Book of Nods (Beta-lactam Ring, 2008) sounded like a somnolent
loop of syncopated jazzy patterns.
Fantasma Parastasie (Alien8 Recordings, 2008) was a collaboration between
Aidan Baker and Tim Hecker.
Magma To Ice (Fario, 2008), a split album with Netherworld, contains
a 19-minute Nadja piece, one of the heaviest ever.
Leah Buckareff and Aidan Baker split the next two Nadja albums: both
Trinity (Die Stadt, 2008) and Trinitarian (Important, 2008)
contain two compositions, one per composer.
Nadja's Desire In Uneasiness (Crucial Blast, 2008) added a real drummer
and a Helios Creed-like space guitar, but each of the three monoliths du jour
The highlights of Nadja's The Bungled And The Botched (Consouling Sounds, 2008) were, respectively, the flute and the piano used in each of its two sprawling compositions (The Bungled And The Botched and
Absorbed In You).
Nadja's When I See The Sun Always Shines On TV (The End, 2009) is a very minor album of covers.
The amount of releases clearly took a (heavy) toll on the quality and
originality (both rapidly tending towards zero).
Reviewers of new Nadja or Baker releases started simply photocopying
The split album Primitive North (Robotic Empire, 2009) contains
Nadja's side-long I Make From Your Eyes The Sun, another "romantic"
take on booming super-dense doom-gaze, but this time replete with angelic
Aidan Baker also formed the double-percussionist trio Arc, devoted to
languid, abstract free-jazz jams a` la Necks
(sometimes with chamber instruments) on
Arc (Arcolepsy, 2000),
Two (Arcolepsy, 2002),
The Circle Is Not Round (A Silent Place, 2005),
Glassine 1 (A Silent Place, 2008),
Arkhangelsk (Epidemie, 2008).
The EP Live 2008-14-11 (Universal Tongue, 2009) documents a collaboration with drummer Brandon Valdivia.
A Picture of A Picture (Killer Pimp, 2009) was a second
collaboration with Thisquietarmy, i.e. Eric Quach.
Colorful Disturbances (Divorce, 2009) was a collaboration with
guitarist Noveller (Sarah Lipstate).
Gathering Blue (Equation, 2009) is a confused collection that runs
the gamut from glitchy ambience to dance music.
The collaboration Nadja/ Black Boned Angel (20 Buck Spin, 2009) indulged
in extremely violent sounds.
Belles Betes (Beta-Lactam Ring, 2009) was representative of the
dead end that haunted Nadja at the end of the decade.
If Beautiful Beast is the usual carpet-bombing of guitar distortions and drumbeats, and Wound Culture is the snail-pace doom nightmare du jour,
there are real departures from the past. In particular,
the celestial psalm of Machina, that arises out of elegant droning noise,
and Chainsaw, that sounds like a remix of King Crimson's 21st Century Schizoid Man.
Under The Jaguar Sun (Beta-Lactam Ring, 2009) offered a yin/yang good/evil
vision of Nadja's work, with one disc ripping through the entrails of hell
and the other disc exploring abstract ethereal soundscape.
When I See The Sun Always Shines On TV (The End, 2009) is a collection
Baker's Liminoid/ Lifeforms (Alien8, 2010) was unusually
scored for eight musicians, adding the aesthetic of chamber music and post-rock
to his ambient music, notably in the 30-minute Lifeform.
Nadja's Autopergamene (Essence Music, 2010) contains three lengthy jams, notably the 25-minute Your write your Name in my Skin.
The 40-minute piece of their Ruins Of Morning (Substantia Innominata, 2010)
was basically the shoegaze version of a melodic fantasia.
White Nights/ Drone Fields (Beta-Lactam Ring, 2010) documents six hours of live Nadja performances.
Dominium Visurgis (Transgredient, 2010) documents an improvised
collaboration between Nadja and German ensemble
The Life And Death Of A Wasp (Bar La Muerte, 2010) was a collaboration
with Italian duo OvO, one of Nadja's most demented and dadaistic recordings.
Marking another change in direction, Baker's
Lost In A Rat Maze (Consouling Sounds, 2011)
is a collection of slow-motion lieder, whereas
Only Stories (The Kora Records, 2011) is a solo acoustic record
for guitar and vocals.
Pure Drone (Beta-Lactam Ring, 2011) documents a live performance.
Still Life (Primary-Numbers, 2011) contains four lengthy abstract
pieces for piano, bass and drums that, again, evoke the ambient jazz style
of the Necks (without their dexterity and
Sky Burial (Latitudes, 2011) contains two 19-minute suites,
Jaguar and Sky Burial, that continue the progression towards
a more ethereal and less magniloquent sound.
Transmit Acoustique Abstraction (Beta-Lactam Ring, 2011) was a split
album with Armchair Migraine Journey to which Nadja contributed a convoluted
Fool Redeemer (Broken Spine, 2011) was a collaboration between Nadja and
Canadian outfit Picastro.
Aidan Baker and Josh Rothernberger launched Scythling
and employed demonic vocalist Rebecca Fasanello and
hammered dulcimer player Michael Tambouro for
the lengthy psychedelic folk excursions of
Smokefall (Aurora Borealis, 2012).
Baker's Closure Axioms (Miskatonic Soundlab, 2012) is an album of
processed solo guitar.
Baker's double-disc 98-song The Spectrum Of Distraction (Robotic Empire, 2012) felt like an eclectic retrospective of rock music of the last few decades.
The double-disc Excision (Important, 2012) compiles Nadja material
from 2007-2009, mostly originally on split albums.
Dagdrom (Broken Spine, 2012) featured
Jesus Lizard's drummer Mac McNeilly instead of the usual drum-machine
imparting a more intense rhythmic undercurrent especially to the
14-minute Space Time and Absence .
Konstruktion (Adagio, 2013) was a collaboration between Nadja and Galena
containing the 22-minute tribal synthscape High Sea & Turbulence / Coda 2.
Flipper (Oaken Palace, 2013) is yet another mediocre ethereal detour in Nadja's
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