The Readers – Reviver EP

The Readers - Reviver EP

The cover art that accompanies the latest collection of new music from Los Angeles based guitar virtuoso Bryan Baker gives more than a hint of what the listener can expect from this latest foray into the avant-garde. Like the image that represents it, these compositions sound like slabs of cool steel flecked with an icy frost; everything on this mechanized beast of an EP is imbued with a metallic chill and monochromatic ambience.

Though this marks Baker’s first release under the The Readers (a collaborative effort with woodwind specialist Aaron Henry), this half hour set of music suggests an amalgamation of Baker’s last two records as a solo artist – This Morning Day and Nothing Falls from the Sky but You and I. The former’s electronic break-beats and virtuosic guitar playing are intact here, as are the latter’s moody soundscapes and slowly shifting atmospheres. Once combined, the results are sometimes shockingly capricious but nearly always enterprising, hinting at the more prodigious 20-track (!) offering Baker has promised for a March 2011 release.

Subtle traces of Henry’s work on the reeds are detectable in each of Reviver’s four songs, yet Baker’s penchant for off-kilter drumbeats and heavily processed textures suffuse the record with an undeniable electronic bent. It’s a credit to Baker’s sense of restraint that the epic 10-minute opener, “The Water, the Brick,” spends half of its length layering itself with ominous drones and a descending 5th chord progression that is foreboding in its minimalism; at this point, there’s no warning of the fracas to come. The tune’s latter half brings with it an interesting juxtaposition, as the background harmonies continue to move at a snail’s pace while a nascent percussion groove lends a sense of frenetic momentum. By the time the 8:00 mark is breached, Baker’s storied fretboard heroics are in full swing and bedlam has set in. It takes another two and a half minutes for the song to sputter its way to the finish line; an exhausting ride for sure, but worth the journey.

Though “Love and Deceit” is much shorter in length, Baker and Henry still pack the track with myriad ideas, including handclap rhythms, uneven time signatures, and drums that briefly recall beatboxing. The song has a decidedly exploratory vibe, with abrupt changes in groove and Baker woozily chanting the titular phrase. “Suspend the Silver Sky” possesses traces of psychedelia and a patchwork of woodwind timbres that eventually eradicate the unassuming tone of the introduction, returning to the mysterious and unsettled waters of the album’s first half.

Closing cut “Kuf Lacuna” is where Henry’s capacities on the saxophone are fully realized, sounding as if he’s trying to one up Baker and his guitar prowess with a blistering tenor solo all his own. Like his compatriot’s six-string, Henry’s leads are treated with a number of effects that renounce any organic quality in favor of something more industrial and alien.

Bryan Baker’s music has never been what some might call “easily accessible,” but that’s hardly the point. Like The Mars Volta’s Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, Baker’s output is steady, consistently fascinating, and always a challenging listen. What remains to be seen yet – and what will hopefully be answered this coming March – is just how Baker will use The Readers’ full length debut to distinguish himself from the niche he’s carved out as a solo artist.