Bill Baird – Earth Into Aether

I’ve just found and am currently typing on my laptop which hasn’t been opened for about 3 years. It is a rather strange feeling actually, even just to discover that the thing still works. After remembering my password with the hint: “The usual” on the 6th time of asking I watched the thing walk back into life, I’d forgotten what my background was and that my shortcuts included Age Of Empires, a blueprint for a poorly executed hot tub project back in 2010 and multiple folders filled with ancient and half-forgotten blog paraphernalia. For me this laptop has pretty much been the only tangible element of A Pocket Full Of Seeds I’ve ever had. It has been years since I’ve posted and just as long since I’ve typed on this keyboard and now I keep missing keys and having to delete huge banks of gibberish.

I remember as youth my dad would occasionally work at his laptop at the kitchen table as my brother, sister and I all did homework. I wouldn’t be able to see what he was typing but was always amazed at how fast he could type. Also after typing frenetically for a few minutes he would then just hold down the delete button and start again several times, looking to rephrase or to approach something from a different line. I would love to know what precise changes he was making, put them all together, attempt to intellectualise them and create theories about my dad and the kind of guy he is. Things like this, things like desktop backgrounds, passwords and forgotten plans give us insight despite, or indeed because of, their apparent triviality. They can catch our curiosity and push us to imagine, hypothesise and look for more.  Looking back on them now, having been long forgotten, feelings of nostalagia mix with those of surprise as we realise just how much or how little has changed. Priorities change, phases pass through and we progress through life but the evidence of the path we have taken can remain for long time after.

And so I wonder how Bill Baird feels about this album. Earth Into Aether is the culmination of an extraordinary time spent making music. Having tasted life on a major label and promptly left with a grimmace on his face Bill has largely been working with and for his own steam. Playing, recording, screen printing, distributing and inventing all the while he gently washes onto our shores with this record in hand. Standing in a rowboat with an improvised umbrella roof which doubles up as a paddle/ice crushing machine. Stately, extraordinary, baffling, beautiful and perfectly according to plan B.

The spectrum of the mood, genre and humour on this record and the quality of execution is most lasting impression of mine after listening to this. Each side, and almost each track, feels like a snippet of what could be an entire albums worth of conceptual direction. Every time the albums shifts and morphs you get a sense that the context changes with it. The lyrical tone of Side A, with deadpan song titles, almost rolling eyes at our lives of social insecurity and trivial concerns, coupled with Freewheelin’-esque finger picking and homemade production gently builds and sets up Side B which is where ones curiosity really starts to catch. I want to know if the piano work on Late Night Dawning was something that just appeared from an improvised instinct at the time of writing or whether there is an album of that kind of magic swirling in the wake of Bills rowboat. Or the intro to Spring Break Of The Soul. The intro to that song sprawls over and eclipses anything else I’ve heard this year. Where the fuck was Bill when he wrote that? How long has that been in his mind or on someones hard drive before I heard it?

The progression continues and it’s as if Bill knows he has us snared, as if he can hear through my speakers the questions being asked aloud and incoherently. On Mans Heart Complaint and Go To Mexico the piano becomes a darker, more brooding instrument and vocals echo and loop over through increasingly distant production. And, while the vocals never truly return to earth, the contrast couldn’t be starker between these 2 tracks and their successors, Your Dark Sunglasses… and Captain Brain, which call upon catchy organ hooks, rock n roll drums, Tony Iommi style guitar riffs and anything else it can get hold of to make you completely rethink what on earth it is you’re listening to. Captain Brain in particular really pushes you before Skull Castle Decorator chases you off the edge 99% sure that the bungee rope is tied securely.

But from where there was darkness and anxiety and protracted looped lyrical refrains comes something new. Strings, orchestration, live applause, instrumentals, space, silence, rest.  By the end of side C you find you’ve been wound tightly around insistent beats and layered vocals without realising it. That is until Side D starts. Initially hinting at the tension that came before it, then thawing and finally breaking it with the applause that follows the stunning tones of both Silence and Surfing, soothing but never simplified. By the time we get to the album closers of Sonnerie’s De la Rose+Croix and Dreams Of Sandy the sense of calm has been not only restored but it’s been extended to a sense of resolution and almost exhaustion as if suddenly realising just how much ground has been covered. It’s a sensation similar to suddenly realising that the film you’re watching is nearly at its end and that this is the final scene and very shortly the house lights will come up and the credits will roll. But you wont leave you’re seat, instead you wait and sit through the reams of names and job titles, allowing yourself time and space to think and for those thoughts and sensations to continue resonating. But after 3 instrumental tracks Bill’s voice walks back into life on my favourite song on the album to tell you very sincerely he is “going home” before allowing the record to button itself to a close.

After listening to this record I couldn’t begin to pinpoint Bill as an artist. There is such a wealth of detail and diversity of songwriting on here, the only consistent elements seem to be a delight in extending and surprising your expectations as well as a wry smile or an edge of tongue in cheek humour. And with so many facets to put forward, each one executed perfectly and slotted together into one body of work, it is impossible to comprehend or even guess at the path taken to reach each one. And it is that sense of listening to an enigma at work which is so utterly compelling.

Thanks for reading and listening

marcus

Buy from Rough Trade

Bandcamp album sampler

Find out more at Talk Show Records

Comments are closed, but trackbacks and pingbacks are open.