Review: Aidan Baker, “Gathering Blue”

I can’t tell if Aidan Baker is releasing old material and calling it new or producing muddy sounding music on purpose. Much of Gathering Blue has a basement tapes quality to it, but the reissued material that composes the second LP of this two-LP set is mostly stunning, as is the packaging that accompanies it. Baker might be in need of some quality control when it comes to his latest work, but his back catalog continues to impress me.

Aidan goes for broke and begins his latest endeavor with a side-long meditative jam. It’s composed mostly of a strong, low-end rhythm, an indistinct weave of harmonies, and the kind of processed haze found on nearly every fuzzy, electronics-heavy record out there. A fraction of the way through, Baker begins to half-mumble some vague and mostly incoherent lyrics with a heavy-handed dramatic tint to them. “Bond of Blood” is a risky way to start a record and it mostly fails to capture my attention. It is mixed entirely too low and contains a repetitive structure that completely betrays Baker’s typically intricate and subtle approach to writing. Anything on the I Wish Too, To Be Absorbed compilation bests this muddied work by a country mile.

Thankfully, the reverse side of the record picks up some of the slack with “Gathering Blue” and a cover of Joy Division’s “24 Hours.” Nevertheless, a strangely under-produced sound hovers over these songs. When compared to the second LP, all three opening tunes sound like unfinished demos tossed together without a thought given to production. Sometimes the rawness of poorly recorded albums can be appealing, but in Baker’s case nothing is gained and a lot is lost. In any case, “Gathering Blue” is another mostly quiet amalgam of processed guitar and quiet melody, but it brings a little more structure and diversity to the table than side A did. The Joy Division cover is both amusing and disappointing. For the duration of the song Baker simply plucks its familiar melody and sings the lyrics in the same half-mumbled way employed on “Bond of Blood.” The result is a dreary and dark remake of an already dark and weighty song, but without the driving rhythm or bitter anger of the original. It works to an extent, but I’ve come to expect more from Baker. Vocally, he doesn’t seem capable of expressing anything beyond doubt, remorse, or self-loathing, none of which compliment the music on this record.

The second LP illustrates just why Baker became so popular in the first place. It collects the Cicatrice and The Taste of Summer on Your Skin EPs from 2003 and 2004 as well as a couple of remixes included on the Arcolepsy remix EP from 2005. The Cicatrice EP and a remix by Building Castles Out of Matchsticks take up the entirety of Gathering Blue’s third side. Each of the five songs are soulful and carefully layered productions that move along at a slow and sensuous pace. The contrast between their shimmering high end and substantial low end produces an almost dub-like and hallucinogenic effect, which reverberates and throbs like a inhuman organ and lends a substantial amount of movement to the whole production. Colorful echoes and subtle nuances decorate Cicatrice from top to bottom, but Baker doesn’t rely on them to be effective. An indistinct, but persistent sense of melody and intensity carries these pieces, which are seamlessly meshed together by crisp production and clever sequencing. It’s a shame that an already limited and hard-to-find EP such as this one had to be re-released on a limited vinyl collection.

The fourth and final side of Gathering Blue is something of a mixed bag, but Cicatrice is a hard act to follow. The Taste of Summer on Your Skin is an upbeat and mostly busy production with drum ‘n’ bass rhythms populating a portion of its length. Dark, atonal pulses and cosmic noise constitute the rest of the it, which is entertaining but not altogether enthralling. I’ve heard lots of spacey sounds like these and though the effects and arrangements employed are attractive, they’re also a little predictable. The dark colors and menacing passages work for me, but are familiar and well-trodden, too. The Troum remix, which ends the record, is a lovely mass of sound built from metallic trembling and futuristic horn sections. It ends the record on a high note, but doesn’t exactly strike me as an appropriate closer.

On a record this uneven, a killer Baker original could have saved the day and left me musing over his many talents, but instead I’m left thinking of another band and their consistently excellent output. Gathering Blue is a sloppy and strangely fractured collection, but still worth seeking out just for the Cicatrice reissue and gorgeous packaging. Everything else will likely intrigue Baker fans, but fail to win anyone else over.

Gathering Blue might be available through various retailers; check the sidebar to your right if you want to find a copy.
Sound samples not available… sorry

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