Baja Aether Obelisk

[Other Electricities; 2009]

Styles: post-rock, electro-acoustic folk
Others: Stereolab, Four Tet, Nathan Michel, The Fiery Furnaces

Aether Obelisk is the fourth album in what is shaping up to be a five-part series from German artist Daniel Vujanic, who records under the name Baja. Like its sister albums, Obelisk is fastidiously recorded and broadly imagined, an elegant blend of electronic and acoustic tactics.

Since 2006, the artist’s name and the conceptual underpinnings of his work have implied a scattered journey. Maps/systemalheur was a compelling departure, followed in short order by Aloha, Ahab and Wolfhour. Aether Obelisk could be an interruption of the expeditionary theme or a new evocation of the navigational malaise of Maps/systemalheur. For an artist as clever as Vujanic, an obelisk could represent an overturned compass needle. And the fact that it is made of “aether” implies a transient or imaginary character, one that calls into question its ability to guide. Indeed, Baja’s music does not follow a straight course; it tunnels into itself, skips forward, and expands in leisurely circles. The willingness to shuttle from idea to idea within big compositions is reminiscent of some of The Fiery Furnaces’ output, but unlike those of The Furnaces, Baja’s songs aren’t spastic riddles to be unpacked; they’re more like detailed itineraries, inked onto paper, that yield memories as one travels across them in three dimensions.

"The Fever Almanach aka Catscratchcatscratch," Obelisk’s third track, is classic Baja: a roving suite that melds glockenspiel motifs with vagrant distortion, churning guitar themes, evanescent voices, and zippy digital intrusions. From there, the listener encounters a stylistic montage: “Be Quick, Be Quiet and Mean” is moody guitar-rock, parts of which emulate In Rainbows; “Graph-vlak”’s post-prod rips, tears, and horn groove evoke TV on the Radio and Hauschka. There’s even a little auto-tuned voice-smearing and scratchy boom-bap in “The Aether Obelisk (Touch My Heart).” Within the sprawling architecture of this tenth track, we find touchstones of current electronic music, liberal passages of Steely Dan guitar, and even a soul music vamp.

With such an array of styles at his command, Vujanic establishes himself as both student and curator of contemporary music. Considered alongside the omnivorous jams of Girl Talk and other mashup mavens, his music confronts the listener with tough questions: Is a curator also a creator? Or have we reached a point where all creators are, at root, merely curators, piecing together new maps of the culture? Thankfully, Vujanic’s music doesn’t answer that question for his fellow travelers. On each new leg of the trip, he compounds it instead.

1. 9 Seconds
2. Kitten (Chaos & Numerology)
3. The Fever Almanach aka Catscratchcatscratch
4. Be Quick, Be Quiet and Mean
5. The Story of Fissa Maines
6. Prism Break
7. Graph-Vlak
8. Tropentage
9. Floating Clocks, Floating Girls
10. Aether Obelisk, The (Supertouch My Heart)
11. Deleth
12. The Nero Radius

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