Aidan Baker & thisquietarmy – A Picture of a Picture

Aidan Baker & thisquietarmy – A Picture of a Picture

Aidan Baker & thisquietarmy – A Picture of a Picture

Look at any upcoming release schedule and there’s a good chance you’ll see Aidan Baker’s name three or four times. He’s the Robert Pollard of heavy ambient, releasing multiple records a year as part of Nadja, under his real name, and under various other guises. thisquietarmy’s Eric Quach, though not as prolific as Aidan Baker and Nadja, is still respected as a purveyor of elegantly dark soundscapes. Their first collaboration, Orange, fell well within what one familiar with their reputations would expect. Filled with edgy, noisy, and droning instrumentals, it felt like a slightly claustrophobic turn inward. Their new collaboration, A Picture of a Picture, is a pleasant surprise, trading in the personal introspection of Orange for an approach which feels wide open and naturalistic.

Lead track “Imagistic Continuity” starts things off with a slow fade in, getting up to volume only after a couple of minutes. Beginning with a calm drone which slowly moves up the register, over the course of the track sustained guitar tones are applied to create a slow, pulsing swell, noise spittling through here and there. Halfway through, the guitar tones stop swelling and turn angelically choral as the calm drone in the background picks up some low end and everything gets louder. Though it continues intensifying, it never really breaks wide open, content to spread out and settle in, and then dissolve into a breeze. The end result is a track that conveys in sound the visual progression of a sunrise.

The wind segues directly into the next track, “Loss of Perspective”, playing off of some eerie guitar tones, both parts slowly oscillating up and down. A third of the way in, the eeriness subsides as the ominous winds are softened by some trebly guitar, like rays of light slowly peeking through shadows, reflecting off of surfaces here and there. As the higher register parts build, they slowly vibrate and percolate, and it feels like the scope of the piece narrows from a broad landscape down to the study of light’s component parts, and back out to a stop motion image of clouds passing through the frame to fade out.

Where “Loss of Perspective” feels like a slow dissipation, “Negative Space” brings back the pure energy, coming out of the gate with overlapping plucked and delayed notes from high on the neck. After a few minutes, a higher drone starts to assert itself, while a muted pulsing bass figure reveals itself low in the mix and a buzzing drone swirls in and out of the mix. Distorted guitars notch up the intensity and whistling noises bring in another rhythmic element. The distortion ebbs, eventually the drones die down, and finally whistling noises take the track to its conclusion.

If opening track “Imagistic Continuity” represents a sunrise, final track “Horizon Line” represents a sunset. But not an earthly sunset as much as a galactic one, as the awesome force of a black hole slowly and assuredly subsumes everything around it. The whistling from the end of the previous song transforms into a quickened pulse that is suggestive of crickets at night. Breathing drones layer over each other interspersed with wispy trills and deeply buried keyboard figures, until the pairing of a rumbling low end accompanied by some seriously chaotic keyboarding gradually gain strength and spread out over the top of everything else with brute force. As the 20-minute track comes to its end it dissolves into stillness, the same calm which began the album 60 minutes earlier.

Along with his collaboration with Tim Hecker, Fatasma Parastasie, Aidan Baker is proving to be both a great collaborator and a master of the long-form,  ambient soundscape.  This is easily one of the most enjoyable efforts I’ve heard in this vein and it sounds like Baker and Quach brought a focus to this project that is often lacking in highly improvised, long-form instrumentals. Each track on A Picture of a Picture sounds like a successful realization of an idea, and the individual tracks work together as a song cycle which itself sounds like a complete story which makes sense as it plays out over the course of an hour. So chalk up another great collaborative release for Aidan Baker. Now, can someone get him into a recording studio with Fennesz?

Aidan Baker


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