Review: Aidan Baker – Lost In The Rat Maze

Last year’s Liminoid/Lifeforms was a solo record only by name. The music itself makes it the most openly collaborative Aidan Baker release I’ve heard, featuring eight guest musicians and granting them all rather prominent places within the recordings; there’s a sense of interaction and interdependence between the collaborators, and for a project generally so reclusive, Liminoid/Lifeforms appears to show Baker stepping quite confidently (and successfully) out into the open. Lost In The Rat Maze he seems to have recoiled into solitude once again, although the album is more direct and rhythm-centric than a large portion of his solo work. Perhaps his experiences with Liminoid/Lifeforms are still fresh.

The title track is one of the album’s finest moments, and could be likened to several voices trying to talk over one another rather than a structured and cooperative conversation – drum machine, ambient layering and hushed vocal all interact incidentally, unwavering in the surrounding activity and apparently oblivious to it, yet exquisitely linked by Baker’s trademark sense of harmony that arises throughout. It’s here that the album title slots in nicely; a daunting mass of separated ideas and thoughts, all tugging the listener in different directions. There are a couple of other tracks that seem to run on this theme – “I Can’t Stand”, “Feathery Fingers” – and they’re all very strong, with Aidan’s voice being a particularly captivating element.

At other points, Lost… can be unremarkable, and occasionally even grating (a quality I never usually associate with Aidan’s quietly-spoken music). “Corridors of Funk” manages to be both, as well as clocking in unnecessarily at over 12 minutes in length – a wailing, squeaking sound sample is set on an endlessly irritating loop for much of this duration, whilst the rest of the instrumentation trundles at a steady pace without actually covering any ground. Tracks such as “Fanciful Flights” and “Cut Stars” just float by rather nonchalantly, as though the album’s theme is being used as an excuse to carelessly send the listener round in circles.

It’s a shame, because Lost In The Rat Maze often glimmers with the potential to be something pretty great. It feels unusual to find an Aidan Baker release that engrosses me at some stages and frustrates me at others – usually I’m either entirely on board or completely unable to “click” – but I’d still say that this record is worth the purchase for the times at which Baker really, really excels, even if its snatches of mediocrity won’t be getting much of my time.