One of heavy music's most prolific and interesting artists makes a quiet, patient album that stands with his best work.
Aidan Baker clearly loves to work; solo, as Nadja with Leah Buckareff, or in many many collaborations, he makes and releases enough music that you could spend a significant portion of your listening time just following his efforts. Thankfully his work generally avoids the most glaring potential pitfall of being so productive. Baker has yet to hit a point where it feels like he’s run out of ideas or is just repeating himself. Last year’s Nadja record, Queller (well, one of last year’s Nadja records), is one of the strongest released by that band, a dense and moving heavy shoegaze/doom effort that’s impeccably crafted. Now his solo The Confessional Tapes is nearly as good while featuring an entirely different sound and ethos.
The story of the album’s origins is striking. Baker had been working on these songs several years ago, lost them in a hard drive crash and eventually recovered corrupted versions of those files. Then Baker worked with (and over) those files. Anyone expecting some sort of metal/Disintegration Loops hybrid will be disappointed, though; the effects of the crash, and Baker’s subsequent work, are both going for something much more subtle. The opening of “Tape #1: I Want to See (More of You)” could be an even more hushed version of classic slowcore, somewhere in the realm of early Smog or Bedhead. When the chorus and a gentle organ riff tap in (it’s too gentle for ‘kick’), the background gains a cyclical little fillip of static.
Because Baker has layered new instrumentation over all of these tapes, the glitches aren’t as pronounced or disruptive as they are in, say, the Fall’s “Paint Work”. There aren’t any cases where the whole track suddenly hiccups or starts over. instead the little interruptions and tape squeals become part of the warm hum that pervades these gentle, bass-led songs. Occasionally the music gets a bit more intense — the fittingly teenage goth-titled “Tape #4: Ambiguities (Longing for an Oblivion)” is kind of a ballad played over a half-turned down tape of some epic, prolonged metal crescendo — but for the most part the feeling here is one of patient precision and careful emotional modulation.
The album’s strongest moments come in the back half, as the warmly empathic “Tape #7: Beneath Which” describes dealing with a loved one’s panic attack over a steady bass thrum, followed by the lengthy “Tape #8: Spider Naming (Spider Killing)” builds from glitchy, one-note piano loops into a slow, gorgeous bloom of sound. By the time The Confessional Tapes ends with “Tape #10: Something Less” the provenance of the tapes and the origins of the sounds are less important than how painstakingly shaped this material is, how these songs are equally almost relentlessly soothing and often moving, foreboding, and even thought provoking. Although Baker is mostly known for working in the noisier, heavier end of the sonic spectrum, The Confessional Tapes is ample proof he can bruise with even the lightest of touches.