Waiting to Exhale
Long-form compositions are nothing new to modern music, and though they still often bear a certain novelty, many artists revel in the ability to let a musical idea exhale before moving to the next one. In the company of the careful composer, these long-drawn breaths can merit excellent, tension-drenched moods that flail and extinguish in very affecting ways. In the hands of lesser composers, largely unedited strains and swells become an endurance test for the listener. Case in point, for “Dead Foxes in the Street,” the lead of the two tracks, it seems as though it is a full nine and a half minutes before the initial musical breath has satisfied the souls of the players.
The souls at work here are the talented multi-instrumentalist Aidan Baker and UK band The Plurals. This new offering, Glass Crocodile Medicine, is part of a larger series of recordings, entitled “The Latitude Sessions,” all of which have been engineered at the famed Southern Studios in London—and have come to include groups such as Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti and Bardo Pond, in addition to other Baker-participated sessions.
In his diverse set of works, Baker seems to favor a more improvisational mode to his work, and even in the midst of minute-long drawn chords, there is a definite sense of interplay. The manic, percussive chords that enter 13 minutes into “Dead Foxes in the Street” are evidence of this, as the collective tension of the musicians give the track a deliriously disturbing few moments. From there, the tension builds and bleeds until it can neither build nor bleed anymore.
However, even with its swirling and perilous hysterics, “Foxes” is probably the lesser of the two tracks, almost like a storm cloud that darkens as it slowly moves over the sky, but never actually unleashes the hell it promises. The second track, “Turning Children Into Mice” definitely shares the slow-build strategy of the former, but seems to boast more strands to tie together, and is much more interesting composition-wise than its predecessor, especially in its first few minutes. In many ways, this becomes the storm that “Foxes” was alluding to. Check the fierce and torrential washes midway through, which punish and throttle the listener. Perhaps it is not the most digestible passage, but it is a display of the record at its visceral and affecting peak.
Wrapping up nicely by stripping each little layer away from the fracas, like policeman breaking up a brawl between hooligans, “Turning” affirms a perfect narrative sense—for itself and the record as a whole. And though it also serves as a much better showcase of the ensemble at play, it more so provides the listener with that much-needed catharsis. Once the last strain fades away, the listener can take in a nice long breath, with a “Hmm” and a careful nod, and acknowledge the deceptively compact thirty-eight minute breath they have just taken.