Album Reviews

Baker Ja Lehtisalo: Crocodile Tears

Members of Nadja and Circle combine for something oddly unique.

It’s been some year for veteran experimentalist, Aidan Baker. With many of his releases interrupted due to the COVID pandemic, 2022 has been a creative gold rush for the Berlin-based doomgazer, experiencing his most successful period in years.

From Nadja’s ferocious live-recorded album, Nalepa, to the collaborative heavy weather jaunts of Labyrinthine, Baker’s solo offerings have equally enthralled, led by the dirge-y slowcore one-two combo of You Are All At Once and Songs Of Undoing.

His last release comes by the way of yet another collaboration, this time with Jussi Lehtisalo of Finnish genre-hoppers Circle and doom-pop odyssey Pharoah Overlord. Together as Baker Ja Lehtisalo they bring us Crocodile Tears.

Dark Passage: In Conversation with Nadja’s Aidan Baker

With both Baker and Lehtisalo having spent decades straddling the harder edges of experimental frontiers, there have also been moments for more streamlined assaults. Especially Lehtisalo, namely alongside Pharaoh Overlord bandmate Aaron Turner for the for the hardcore-inspired Split Cranium. At first, Baker and Lehtisalo aren’t match you’d expect, however after the first few minutes of Crocodile Tears’ opening song, (And I Want Your Perfect) Crocodile Tears, it starts to make perfect sense.

As the Nadja-like embers of white noise sprinkle from the skies, the song unravels into a protracted pop jam that is one of the most accessible things Baker has done, melding the slowcore leanings of You Are All At Once with a playful, Duster-like bee-swarm blur.

I Wanna Be Your Bette Noire sees Lehtisalo come into his own, with more Circle influenced spatial synths weaving in and out of the song. So too with the brilliantly titled Neon Splashing From Your Eyes – an ’80s synth pop-inspired cut presented in the best possible way, as the pair bend slowcore and pop into interesting new shapes.

Shaking Hell: Supersonic Festival 2022

And it continues with Face/Off. Whether doom lounge music was a thing or not, it is now. Here, Baker and Lehtisalo explore the dark fringes and stumble across something oddly original, doing for metal what Kurt Wagner has been doing for folk music over the past seven years.

Those yearning for new Pharaoh Overlord can rest easy. Instead of Aaron Turner’s mirthless barks, Baker brings a soothing element to this skewed world of doom and pop, and with nimble, machine-like percussion and soft synths, Crocodile Tears isn’t the sonic pummeling we’d expect from either artist. Even during its most aggressive moments, like the excellent closing title track, Crocodile Tears still washes over you with a new sense of calm.

All told, it’s Baker and Lehtisalo inflecting a kind of gooey psych-pop psychosis that is not only original in their respective canons, but to the whole experimental landscape. So much so, that we can’t wait for the next chapter.

Crocodile Tears is out now via Ektro Records, Broken Spine. Purchase from Bandcamp.

By Simon Kirk

Product from the happy generation. Proud purple bin owner surviving on music, books and LFC. New book, Welcome To Charmsville, available from all major vendors.

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