Review: Aidan Baker – Liminoid/Lifeforms

I’m beginning to think that Aidan Baker’s solo material is where his most expressive and compelling work lies. His Nadja project is tied to a trademark sound (that distinctive planetarium of fuzz and carefully woven ambient layering), whilst his music under “Aidan Baker” provides a canvas for anything and everything he’s unable to convey through the Nadja output.

The four parts of “Liminoid” present Baker at his untouchable best, with “Part 1” introducing the landscape on a tentative rise of violin and dramatic waves of cymbal wash. Seven collaborators feature on this release, providing strings, drums and guitar as well as dividing vocal duties between them, and it’s during “Part 1” that they appear to be striking up a connection, gradually crawling out of their introvert comfort zones to fuse into one entity, one seamless octet ensemble.

“Part 2” jitters with a staccato clack and tumble of percussion, hopping between jabs of pizzicato strings. It’s giddy, almost danceable, and contrasts so beautifully with the ceaseless surge of “Part 3”, which glides on a gorgeously harmonised conversation between cello and violin. By this point it becomes very clear that Baker understands how to incorporate strings – they’re far from a lazy inclusion, and tend to propel the compositions forward for the most part without ever feeling like a needless gimmick sitting uncomfortably over the top.

I was worried that the 30 minutes of “Lifeforms” would fail to sustain the quality established in the “Liminoid” section. It’s a rather uninspiring suspended chord that dominates its early stages, which fails to display any glimmer of character until the strings begin to step out of the dark and make their voices heard – at which point “Lifeforms” becomes fascinating, with vigorous melodic fragments rising out of the nothing for a few fleeting seconds before dipping down again. For the second half it transforms. The sustained chord cuts back and the strings become more meandering in its wake. Unfortunately it feels as though the piece begins to edge towards its conclusion far too early, and sounds too aimless for too long. Even as the sustained chord re-enters, it’s not enough to re-establish the intent and direction of the first half.

It’s not a disastrous ending, it just fails to really mesmerise in the way “Liminoid” does. Neither does it tarnish the evidence that Baker is incredibly comfortable in this environment. This release never feels like an act of “exploration” or “experimentation”, rather it’s just a part of his musical persona that he hasn’t unveiled up until now. Liminoid/Lifeforms is another solid Aidan Baker album, more than worth its price for the “Liminoid” section alone.