Album Review: Aidan Baker, Already Drowning
Last year when I spoke to Toronto by way of Berlin metal-gaze duo Nadja, they divulged some strange plans, yet guitarist Aidan Baker kept quiet about his solo projects. This spring Baker will release his next solo work, Already Drowning, and its contents are surprising: seven compositions inspired by various myths and folktales about female water spirits, with vocal interpretations by eight female vocalists from Canada, the U.S, Germany, and Switzerland.
I say surprising because Nadja create bassy ambient drone that draws from bleak metal sounds, and Baker is an accomplished solo guitarist. On Already Drowning, Baker pushes his talents toward Warren Defever territory, writing all lyrics and compositions aside from vocal melodies, and playing guitars, bass, flute, drums, trombone, and piano--plus contributing field recordings. "30 Days / 30 Nights" vocalist, Ohio's Jessica Bailiff, has contributed to Defever's His Name is Alive in the past as a guitarist, so perhaps it's a fitting comparison.
The name dropping never ends (and it never should)--Already Drowning also features additional instrumentation from Laura C. Bates, Carl Pace (of Beta Cloud), Laura Rodie, Nadja's Leah Buckareff, and cello by Toronto's Nick Storring (of Picastro),
Other vocalists include American songstress Carla Bozulich (Evangelista), Valérie Niederoest & Maude Oswald of The Toboggan, German Joanna Kupnicka, Quebec's Geneviève Castrée, and two Toronto artists--Liz Hysen of Picastro, and Clara Engel, whose powerful voice on the album's title track describes a scene straight from a Guy Maddin movie.
Each vocalist brings a different spirit, bound by Baker's writing and atmosphere. The gentlest track is "Mein Zwilling, Mein Verlorener," which loosely translates to "My twin, My Lost." In this lovely psych folk piece, Kupnicka sings and speaks softly in German: a slow current leading the listener far from shore (while the lyrics are Baker's, some artists chose to translate them).
Valérie Niederoest and Maude Oswald's duet "Mélusine" shivers between jazz percussion, guitar loops, and drones. A Melusine is the most famous of water spirits--what we would recognize as a siren, or mermaid. The two voices, Ariel's mysterious deep-sea cousins, waver and chant. Yet Already Drowning isn't all soft water sounds: in one of the albums' greatest moments the tempest of doom that swirls through Nadja emerges on "Tout Juste Sous La Surface, Je Guette". I'm also glad to admit that while I wasn't crazy about Bozulich's work on Xiu Xiu's Always last year, her restrained efforts on "Lorelei / Common Tongue" are gorgeous and sinister. The album is a work of beauty, and I'll be listening to it a lot.
For the moment, enjoy the sounds of Baker's fall 2012 release, Origins and Evolutions, where Baker gathered over a dozen guitarists from around the world, creating four ambient drone tracks suited to a frozen winter.