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Aidan Baker & Thisquietarmy, "Orange"

Imagine there is a machine moving through space without any discernible origin, its shape and size are thoroughly alien to the human mind, and it is transmitting a series of communications as it ploughs through our solar system and back into deep space. Orange would be the recording of those communications.

 

Thisquietarmy
 
I can't think of a project Aidan Baker has been involved in that is more spacious and alien than this. His work under the Nadja guise reminds me of metal, doom, and gloom more than anything else and my familiarity with his other projects brings to mind inner-space more than outer-space. He has always blurred the edges between conventional heaviness and the density of drone music, but on Orange Baker and Eric Quach allow their compositions to disseminate endlessly. There's a levity in these four songs that I don't often find associated with Baker and I have to assume that this is due to Quach's contributions, at least in part. The compositions are still chock full of textures and perpetually distorted instruments, but on Orange that approach to writing music is utilized to destroy consciousness, not cement it in layers of mud, earth, and steel.

With titles like "Agent" or "Clockwork," these tracks might be expected to exhibit some degree of violence, both being potential references to one form of brutality or another. Instead both hiss and moan by, glowing in phased and warped bits of synthesizer and majestically elongated guitar performances. I'm tempted to say that solos exist on some of these tracks, but I only mean to imply that there is some amount of conscious structuring happening alongside the seemingly improvised bits of formlessness that drift throughout each song. It is, in fact, easy to let some of these songs fade into the background. As they pulse along, they become mesmerizing and begin to seep into the walls and floors of the space in which they're manifested. Inevitably some rogue element will strive to be louder or more distinct than all the other parts at play; when that happens it's as though I'm being snapped out of a dream and I have to gather myself before continuing to listen to the record. Christy Romanick's photography is the perfect accompaniment to this phenomenon: her work is bold, but abstract enough to be seductive and hazy. Her photography suits this kind of music perfectly, highlighting the way the music can be both subliminal and overtly powerful.

This isn't ambience, though. It's too uncomfortable to be ambient. There are elements of terror on Orange, especially as the closing track, "Blood," comes to an end. I'm reminded of immense voids in its closing moments and some primal terror takes a seat in that memory; I can imagine looking around for some anchor, some point of sensibility and seeing nothing but blackness all around me as the song plays. When it ends in a snap that picture of the void doesn't go with it, but stays firm in my mind. So, despite working subconsciously at some points, Orange leaves a lasting impression. It will not win Baker any new fans over to his particular style of music, but it may leave current fans clamoring for a further collaboration between these two musicians. They have both clearly learned how to play with the minds of their audience.

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Review of the Day

Trans Am, "TA"
Man, I am so upset. I usually run out and buy Trans Am albums the day they come out (the only band I do that with!), but their latest album is SO terrible, SO wretched, SO miserable, that I am actually angry. Personally offended, even. That the band would have the audacity to publish this crap colors my experience of all the other Trans Am albums. It's depressing! It appears that the irony that has always lurked in the background of previous albums is the only quality present here. "TA" is entirely reference: "We like OMD, wink wink... overblown MOR rock is funny, wink wink... I'll bet a rap in Spanish would be a ridiculous thing to include on one of our records, yuk yuk". A parody is potentially fine, as long as it offers something deeper than what it initally appears to be. "Future World", for instance, was certainly a Kraftwerk reference, but it's also a great album in its own right. "Red Line" referenced Suicide, but it didn't end there. The Van Halen-like rock-out sections of all the previous albums work because the band REALLY IS rocking out, and the Stewart Copeland-esque drum workouts worked precisely because they used the Police as a starting point on the way to something new. But "TA" is useless. As a joke, it's a thin one. If it's an intentionally unfunny joke, then it fails as that, too. When a band starts writing songs that sound like Loverboy, they are only as good as the context; so when the context is merely a knowing wink, it's pretentious, it's instantly dated ("remember that time when it was funny to sound like Loverboy?"), and the songs still just sound like Loverboy. Sure, there have been entire albums that succeed as parodies of popular genres (the Residents' "Third Reich n' Roll" springs to mind, as does Neil Young's "Trans") and hold up decades after they are published, but this isn't one of them. As a suddenly-former Trans Am fan, I feel ripped off and insulted. They were the one band that I've been sure to catch at every tour, whose albums and concerts I anticipate. This latest album doesn't appear to be "good" on any level. Bye bye, Trans Am... hello Trans Awful. - 

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