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Aidan Baker “Already Drowning” LP (Gizeh UK)

Aidan Baker and Nadja release a lot of albums.

Okay, sports metaphors usually make me barf, but: because both entities step up to the plate so much, you gotta figure they’re gonna hit one out of the park at some point. This one’s headed for the center field bleachers, Elmer.

The Gizeh label states Already Drowning is “a song-cycle inspired by various myths & folktales about female water spirits.” Not exactly an overly-broad theme as far as concept albums go. I’m not even sure it, uh, holds water. But each song features a female guest vocalist. So there’s that.

Clara Engel‘s voice graces the title track. Imagine an indierock Cassandra Wilson with a more than a tinge of neo-gothic drama. Engel’s voice is close-mic’d, dusky and husky, and her singing suits the arrangement’s slow burn perfectly. The mood sways and builds, and a little past six minutes into the track, Clare’s voice retreats, and subtly menacing fuzz fades up in the background. Soon the distortion takes the fore as the track concludes.

This is a song that doesn’t have the same effect when played on headphones– it needs a room, space to bloom. With enough volume and some good speakers, this track sounds better than just about anything else I’ve heard so far this year.

The album doesn’t go downhill from there, although the pacing is slow– nearly glacial. Jessica Bailiff‘s filtered vocal on “30 Days /30 Nights” makes me think of Slint. LIke, Spiderland Slint. It’s not blown-out mathrock, with alternating quiet/loud verse/chorus neo-prog. But it’s still got that proto-emo feel with more than a little 4AD vibe, too.

Already Drowning concludes with “Lorelei,” a contribution from Carla Bozulich, she of Ethyl Meatplow / Geraldine Fibbers / Scarnella / Evanglista fame. Bozulich sing-speaks the main vocal while additional, less-tethered Carla voices swarm quietly in the background, with backwards keyboard tracks and other disorienting instrumentation veering across the mix. It’s like nothing you’ve heard before, but it’s pure Carla, and uncut Bozulich is always welcome in my home.

The Engel, Bailiff and Bozulich songs are the best ones on the album but every track is imaginatively arranged, performed, recorded, and mixed. I get the sense most songs could be stretched out to an album side or more and I wouldn’t mind.

The label calls this post-rock and “slowcore”. I know they have to market this release somehow, but they should leave that kind of word-jockeying to us hacks. If This Mortal Coil’s It’ll End In Tears had been released 30 years later, with originals instead of covers, it might have turned out something like Baker’s Already Drowning. This is music to be played and replayed in the dark, on the train, at work, in the car, at the laundromat, at Walmart (okay, maybe not at Walmart), everywhere. I’ve listened to this album maybe a couple dozen times over the past few months, and every time I play it I hear something new. And I’m not going to get sick of it anytime soon.

The LP comes with a download card with the (free) option to download full-resolution FLACs. More labels need to do this.

Stephen Mejias at Stereophile has done an exemplary job writing about this album. Twice. These pieces are the reason I gave Already Drowning a chance. So, thanks, Stephen.

Already Drowning on Bandcamp (direct from Aidan Baker)

Already Drowning via the Gizeh (UK) label