Captured Howls presents a journal of observations, a linguistic art piece… a blog on arts, music, and cinema

Aidan Baker & [ B O L T ] Explore Haunted Solitude On Collaborative Drone Album

I listened to the first track of the collaborative album from [ B O L T ] and Aidan Baker, both of whom appear quite prolific, while walking around southern Manhattan about a week before I’m now finalizing this review. The sprawling piece had enough going on that I mostly couldn’t hear the sounds of the city around me. Having listened again, this time to the full album, I remain struck by how open-ended yet utterly gripping the music really seems.

The record, which consists of two tracks, each near twenty minutes, features no vocals, or at least no vocal contributions I could pick out. Instead, it’s a relatively expansive piece of what might be termed ambient and noise — with an impressive three basses providing the bulk of the music heard throughout the album, evidently after a series of adept and artful sonic mangling through various techniques and effects. (There’s also percussion, and that’s where some of the online credits end.) Worth noting is that recordings heard on the record, which was released in 2021, evidently started all the way back in 2013 — and the many layers make that not exactly difficult to believe.

If you can imagine the sudden sense that there is nothing but life, that the urge to simply live has become all that is, that the cacophonous din pulsing around us without end was captured, funneled, amplified — that the desire of a flower like seen in the cover art to push from the earth, from consciousness and connection into greater consciousness and a peaceful, steely, loving, demanding lack of focus, is available and paintable in music: all of that sounds reflected in this album.

An element that sticks out to me is the sense of push. The journey provided by these two lengthy tracks doesn’t bore a cavern into the earth as much as Baker and [ B O L T ] present one already found, without a necessarily clear beginning or end as best you can see. Slightly alternatively, it’s like suddenly noticing a shadowy chasm in the process of opening, without anyone seeming to see or pay much attention — or there being much in terms of impacts on how things are. The music, while formidable, doesn’t present itself as chaotic or particularly upending. It’s more like a prism to view that which is already there.

Openly existential and even immaterial pleasantry courses through this album, which is titled simply with the artists’ names. The gently grating nature of the elements that provide an often consistent sonic backdrop keeps the listener in their spiritual place, since while forceful, I don’t get the sense it just keeps going in terms of impacts. It’s more restrained. I don’t think the record or artists particularly discard the physical experience in favor of something overly confrontational, unsettling, or destabilizing.

There’s just the specifically gentle sense something is off-kilter. While the haze of sound could strike the listener as familiar since it’s definitely not incomprehensible, and there are elements that point towards control executed by those who crafted this, do we know what it means when it seems as though the room, scene, or entire world has extended itself from us, beyond perceptible limits, to the point where our own thoughts and feelings can color what we see? That’s what I’d say the record explores, and there’s obviously a potentially ominous sense in that kind of thing, which doesn’t go ignored here.

While clearly quite famous, many paintings by the French artist Claude Monet, some of which I’ve recently seen in person (making them front of mind), seem to suggest similar feelings to me. The individual taking in one of these pieces, like the album itself, has found themselves pushed into a world of their perceptions, which can feel destabilizing perhaps in that the familiarities of the most strict, physical rigidity in which we operate are gone. For the album, there’s no sense of the kind of set structure that would be often found in a lot of styles, even some kind of close to what the artists capture here, like post-rock or post-metal, although genre terms get more irrelevant as time goes on.

Despite a potential hurdle in settling down into real familiarity, it’s all captivating, and there’s this sense of the trek propelling its participant into a farther and farther reach of understanding. Something like this, whether a gigantic canvas by Monet depicting flowers that don’t quite look how they would in strictly naturalistic terms or the sonic fog of the record, carries an implicit question pushing you to look within. The album outlines expectation and solitude, perhaps illuminating in its focused and striking strangeness how solitude fundamentally defines much of our lived experience. We’re the only ones who will ever be within our individual minds.

Much of the first track rests on blustery, subtly abrasive tones that surge outwards at a consistent but sometimes artfully meandering pace. It’s like what could be termed the fertile chaos from which flowers or food crops might grow transformed to sound. The song could be perceived as threatening or even just suggestive of some looming calamity because of the persistence of the sounds that extend evidently ever onward, like a ship’s horn that suddenly pierces an expanse of fog and then continues for an unnaturally long period of time. The haze of tones suggest that fog, and the length of time you’re left in the quiet unrest suggests something perhaps absent, as though keeping sonic, psychological, or existential space for something more demanding. In the natural world, heat could prove overwhelming, and an inviting plant deadly once consumed.

There are ultimately some more piercing tones in the haze, but the sense of sitting alone atop a nauseatingly careening, huge, creaking ship in some perceptibly expansive scene rather than just, say, gazing into the sun, is consistent. This album could have been a lot more uneasy and just intense. It’s not. You’re here — in all the dubious, all-encompassing open-endedness that entails.

On the second track, noted pulses of more gritty haze light the way like disembodied lamps appearing in the darkness and then abruptly blinking out. The texture of the tones suggests the kind of sweltering glisten you’d find in some kind of overheated nature scene, but there is no clear emotional conclusion across much of the runtime, establishing the sense that what you’re seeing doesn’t directly reflect that with which we’re most familiar. When you listen, you realize it doesn’t really end, at all. Instead, it just flows forward, forward, and then forward some more as it’s clarified you really have objectively no idea how this path extending before you actually ends. Maybe there’s a decrepit, haunted church. Maybe there is a field of beautiful flowers. Some of the tones that eventually appear sound grandiose, but the general lack of a central pulse makes it easy to imagine nobody is actually playing what you’re hearing in these suggested, metaphorical environs. Instead, scenes flow into one another like a stream of consciousness.

The album was evidently made available through a series of record labels, including Dunk!Records, A Thousand Arms, Church Road Records, Bird’s Robe Records, and New Noise China. Both artists have new music either recently released or forthcoming and accessible via Bandcamp.

Listen to this record below!