Between his Nadja albums and his solo material, Aidan Baker releases enough music to frustrate all but the most ardent and obsessive collectors. Important Records have just released a two-CD compilation that won’t solve that problem, but it features some of the best Baker material I’ve yet heard.
With so much music released in the last eight years, it’s not hard to imagine Baker having a diverse amount of rare songs in need of greater exposure. I Wish Too, To Be Absorbed collects MP3 downloads and songs from CD-R albums that I know about only because reliable discographies of Baker’s work exist online. Despite the multiplicity of styles and approaches Baker utilizes, both discs flow with a logical and pleasing continuity that suggests a proper album more than a compilation. The track selection and running order have little other rhyme or reason; both discs jump backwards and forwards in time, skipping multiple years in favor of shared aesthetics and natural progressions.
Disc one begins with Baker’s first release, Element. “Element #1” serves to establish a mood and does little more than rumble and hiss in a threatening, slightly brooding manner. The tolling of deep, distant bells provides a ritualistic tone that resonates throughout much of the collection. “K” follows this mass of sound and lightens the mood considerably, exhibiting Baker’s less intense tendencies. Cello and violin are featured heavily during the first half of the song and it’s difficult not to imagine Baker taking some inspiration from bands like Godspeed You Black Emperor!, Labradford, or even Rachel’s. In a span of five minutes, the song’s theme changes from one of memory and yearning to one of suffering and uncertainty. The strings on “K” disappear and the song resolves into a mess of scraping metal and unidentifiable clatter before ending and moving naturally into “Merge.” These are the only two songs on the compilation that were originally featured on the same record, Wound Culture. This release was a book/CDr combo that dealt ostensibly with erotic themes in various forms; if “Element #1” set the tone for this disc, then these two songs add just a hint of sensuality to the record. Each of the following songs, whether they be ten or 20 minutes in length, bare traces of these first three compositions. There are hints of industrial influences on some songs and on others it’s hard not to hear Baker incorporating shoegaze and krautrock stylings into his work. Whatever dress the music is wearing, it’s always harboring a kind of sensuousness that isn’t immediately discernible in all of Baker’s music, especially not in Nadja. “Speed of Thought” ends disc one with a kind of jam-piece that sounds partly improvised, but also highly structured. It’s perhaps the best song on the entire compilation and it represents a side of Baker’s talent with which I am entirely unfamiliar. His pseudo-ambient, pseudo-metal, pseudo-drone projects receive plenty of attention, but this post-rock amalgam of a song has me completely spellbound. Hopefully Baker hasn’t abandoned this approach and will be releasing more music like it.
Disc two collects the kind of music that I think must be most associated with Baker’s solo output. Each of the five songs are long, abstract pieces with highly cinematic qualities. The focus on disc two is long, rolling sounds, muddy bubbles of synthesizer noise, and slowly developing melody. Both “Melusine” and “Esken (Bonedweller)” are mostly quiet pieces that thrive on minutiae and the mysterious qualities of hazy samples. Though definitely reliant on guitar, both songs are rich with tiny details that I can’t imagine an electric guitar producing: there are sputtering motor-boats slowly sinking off foggy shores, foot steps tapping down long, ageless corridors, and gelatinous washes of bass-heavy noise creeping in and out of these songs to great effect. The title track is perhaps the most bizarre of all the songs and features a number of samples and tape loops oddly familiar to my ears. I’m nearly certain that a fraction of Autechre’s “VI Scose Poise” (from Confield) is utilized on “I Wish Too, To Be Absorbed.” The beginning of the song is laden with cut up, completely disproportionate samples that skip, jump, and skew the ocean of underlying guitars and synthesizers that populate the majority of the track. Bird calls, percussive glass, and mumbled vocals emerge towards the end of the song, but this array of sampling is far less manic than the rhythmic jumble that got the whole thing going. The rest of disc two is a quiet, almost-ambient affair that follows the lead of “Melusine” and “Esken (Bonedweller).”
In a way, I Wish Too… serves two functions: it highlights a number of Baker’s musical styles and it functions as two complete and independent records. Both discs have natural peaks and valleys and both discs present a variety of Baker’s musical approaches. Though I doubt that this release was meant to serve as an introduction to Baker’s solo output, it fills that role perfectly and with a lot of class. I’ve heard plenty of good compilations and retrospectives before, but I Wish Too… goes above and beyond because it manages not to sound like a collection or retrospective at all.