Baja – Aether Obelisk

Baja - Aether Obelisk

Baja - Aether Obelisk

This fourth installment under the Baja moniker finds eclectic composer Daniel Vujanic promising an album that favors thematic cohesiveness over trite sonic noodling. In other words, we’ve been told to expect quality over quantity. Even the disc’s title, Aether Obelisk, makes esoteric hints at music that has time and space to develop its inherent grandeur; “aether” makes reference to a theoretical substance by which electromagnetic waves may be transmitted, while an obelisk (so prominently featured on the album’s cover) is symbolic of towering monolithic structures. Yet with music that taps into chamber pop, folk, jazz-tinged electronica, and improv psychedelia at seemingly random intervals, it’s hard to not stray off course. And so, what we unfortunately wind up with is exactly what was promised to be avoided: sonic experimentation on par with musical ADD.

With seven capable musicians playing no fewer than a dozen instruments (ranging from the vibraphone and glockenspiel to the bari sax and clarinet), it doesn’t take long for restlessness to set in. After the literal filler of opening sequence “9 Seconds,” some pristine acoustic guitar work sets the tone for “Kittens (Chaos & Numerology)” alongside videogame synth tones and dulcet vibraphone countermelodies. Quickly though, the beat sputters to a stop before abruptly restarting, only now to introduce some interjections from a flute and a bridge that finds the acoustic guitar modulated to a new key. It’s the sound of a determined but delusional dog chasing its own tail: having the sense that you’re getting closer and closer to your goal, but momentarily collapsing from exhaustion before you achieve success. Already, we’re being lead in circles. And all kidding aside, this is the most straightforward cut on the entire disc.

“Be Quick, Be Quiet And Mean,” a track soaked with layers of crunchy guitar distortion, also features an unorthodox FX-treated tenor sax solo and some lingering slide work that hints at alt-country. “The Fever Almanach Aka Catscratchcatscratch,” perhaps the most convoluted track of all, finds uneasy percussion and electronic twittering that never settle into a groove. At times the delay-enhanced keyboards evoke Coldplay, while at other times they recall vintage Nine Inch Nails. And to make sure you never get overly confident about predicting what is to come, there’s an accordion part mingling with piano and vibes at the song’s end.

Vocals are scattered here and there around the record too, though they are almost entirely disposable. The album can occasionally sound very organic, but the auto-tuned and robotic vocals (“It’s just a scratch”) seem carelessly placed and sterile.

Once you come to accept that, as well as Baja’s lack of commitment to any one style or mood, there’s plenty of tempting ear candy to be digested. “Tropentage,” a song which begins with industrial clang and clatter, eventually dissolves into lush harmonies being played by the tenor and bari saxes. “The Story Of Fissa Maines” has an ending rife with ominous keyboard drones and a solitary pounding drum. If you were to strip away the nonsense field recording samples and noisy electronics, you’d have one of the album’s most sublime tracks. “Graph-Vlak” finds Vujanic channeling vintage Aphex Twin (for a moment, anyway), where phaser FX and woozy synths meet some unsettling techno drumming.

In the end though, it’s all irony. For an album with astral implications, there is a severe lack of open air and space to explore them. This bugger’s stuffed to the gills with ideas, most of which are honestly exciting. How unfortunate then, that they’re never given the time they deserve to fully grow into something meaningful. While Aether Obelisk may be less ambient and nocturnal then its predecessors, it’s still music of the nighttime, but perhaps with a dose of insomnia. You can’t sit still, and you certainly can’t clear your mind; there’s just too much distraction everywhere.