Genuine, fundamental individualism is hard to achieve in any medium; simply put, it requires a total disregard of the foundational rules of whichever art form is in question, even after decades of such ideas being reinforced. Ka Baird is an artist who has somehow managed to achieve just such a thing, however. ‘Sapropelic Pycnic’ has found its home on Drag City Records, a label long offering shelter to the unrepentantly weird and off-beat. It makes perfect sense that the album should be put out by the same institute which acts including Royal Trux call home. Although quite unlike any of her label mates (or indeed, any artist we can think of) Baird does have the same independent, singular spirit as those that gave the label notoriety.
‘Sapropelic Pycnic’ is a deeply psychedelic album, but not in the way most albums given such a tag are. Where psychedelia today is all too often a mishmash of backwards guitar, lyrics about walruses and other drugular cliches, Baird treads a path less travelled. The album is deeply trippy but not thanks to the employment of long held genre tropes but rather through genuine originality and an often dense – perhaps even claustrophobic – atmosphere.
Baird’s primary compositional tool, and the one thread that links ‘Sapropelic Pycnic’s 7 pieces together, is the flute. Throughout the album the instrument hovers above the mix – no matter how dense either rhythmically or melodically the rest of the music becomes, the flute chimes clear as a bell above it all, a waymark in an otherwise often disorientating musical landscape.
Of course, the sheer originality of Baird’s vision is all well and good but the core question here is just how well it actually works as an album. The answer isn’t clear cut and largely depends on the listener – any record that has this much of an abandon of traditions and norms is bound to be a hard sell for some; that’s simply the nature of such an album. Those willing to take the plunge and give over the time needed to really sympathise with Baird’s vision will, however, find an album well worth sticking with.
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The overlapping rhythms and delay drenched sonics of ‘Ka’ frequently teeter on the edge of chaos, often threatening to drift into outright disorder before being reined back into a more definable, concrete groove. It’s a deeply textural sound that can easily go as deep as you want it to; intricacies are not in short supply here and the album’s nuances only start to fully open up some listens in. It’s an intense sound, certainly, and one that takes no prisoners when it comes to sheer individualism but Baird’s audacity pays off as ‘Sapropelic Pycnic’ is a complex, rewarding record.
Baird saves the best for last as album closer ‘You Are Me’ stands not only as the most beautiful song on the album but the one that most closely resembles a traditional musical presentation. The song is a rich tapestry of sighing strings and mournful keys, Baird’s wide-ranging, almost operatic voice fluttering high above the instrumentation. It’s a song that only reinforces the otherworldly serenity of the album and cements its creator as an artist with real vision.
‘Sapropelic Pycnic’ is certainly not an album for all but those with an open mind and adventurous ears would do well give over some of their time to it; Baird’s vision is an unerringly unique one and that allows her to ultimately create an album quite unlike any other.
‘Sapropelic Pycnic’ is out now on Drag City