Four years since the exciting ‘Dum Dum’ EP, ‘Harlem Shake’s initial release and that LFTF mix helped to open the ears of the wider world to the meteoric rise of the new brand of trap music (along with TNGHT, Flosstradamus, RL Grime et al.) – Baauer is finally releasing his long-awaited and eagerly anticipated debut album. And with pre-album releases of the superb ‘GoGo’, ‘Day Ones’ and ‘Kung Fu’ we were certainly among those who were very excited for ‘Aa’ (apparently pronounced ‘double A’).
Maybe it’s this level of optimistic expectancy that can account for the frustration that this album brings. ‘Aa’ is certainly not without its high points, but it’s full of half-ideas, seemingly unfinished songs and an overall lack of coherence. There’s every chance the apparent discordance and inconsistency is a deliberate move; on announcing details of the album Baauer explained how “what makes a sound special to me is its imperfections, its peculiarities. I spent the last couple years trying to get all of those imperfections into one record”. Be that as it may, it doesn’t diminish the frustration in listening to an album awash with unrealised potential.
The funky, tropical house of ‘Pinku’ is over before it’s begun. The promisingly bassy and building ‘Good & Bad’ is like the intro to a song that never arrives. The other-wise good ‘Sow’ is tarnished by the inexplicable inclusion of thirty second Tetris theme edit that is thrown on the end (presumably for lack of a better place to put it). And the less said about the minute and a half of screeching, almost offensive electro-house that is closing track ‘Aa’, the better.
Even in the high points there are frustrations: the incredibly catchy ‘Way From Me’ transforms from sleek R&B to shuffling 2-step, but it’s never allowed to fulfil its promise as one thing before it changes into something else. Even ‘Temple’, which brilliantly combines Eastern motifs, the perpetually amazing M.I.A and the intriguing South Korean hip-hop of G-Dragon still only comes in at three minutes in length, of which one minute is basically lost to the lengthy intro and outro.
Make no mistake, ‘Aa’ is not a bad album and there genuinely are some brilliant new tracks that build on Baauer’s previous work, as well as exploring the potential for a range of exciting new avenues he could explore with very little difficulty. Opening track and lead single ‘GoGo’ is vintage Baauer: hard-hitting, growly trap that creeps to limit of excess without ever over stepping the line. The superbly atmospheric ‘Body’ follows, showing a level of subtlety essential to bring rise-and-fall to an album (something that has previously not been needed on his shorter form EPs).
‘Day Ones’ is for all intents and purposes a grime track, and not just by virtue of the guest appearance from Novelist but because of its punchy drum sounds, staccato horns and no-nonsense aggression. And it doesn’t come across as Baauer jumping on the grimewagon, it genuinely suits his production style and what he has done before. Equally, ‘Kung Fu’, featuring two of the biggest names in hip-hop - Pusha T and Future - shows the potential for more work with rap royalty (á la Hudson Mohawke) in a way that would not be out of keeping with Baauer’s style and production values that he has honed over the last half a decade (which has included previous collabs with Rae Sremmurd and Fetty Wap). Even the Baltimore-influenced ‘Make It Bang’ works by virtue of its unashamed commitment to being a massive club tune (hence the name) - because that’s what Baauer has always done best: unapologetically big songs made to be played loud.
It’s infuriating that any conversation about Baauer always mentions the ‘Harlem Shake’ internet phenomenon of 2013, as anyone who knows about his music is well aware that: a) ‘Harlem Shake’ was (and still is) a great song that unfairly became branded as an annoying novelty and b) there’s a lot more to Baauer than one song that thrust his name into the global media and conscience. That said, it has obviously had an effect on Baauer (how could it not?) and what comes across on this album is the desire of a very accomplished producer doing his best to prove his diverse range of talents and the extent of his production skills – as if to show he is capable of more than the style that made him a household name.
This may well be an over-analysis of the motivations of the man, but it would certainly go some way to explaining why the album resembles a portfolio or demo-reel of styles and ideas that don’t always come to fruition, rather than a cohesive album with a consistent aesthetic or through-line. If imperfection is what Baauer was looking for, then he has succeeded; but that doesn’t resolve the disappointment with what could have been a brilliant album.
Words: James Kilpin
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