It is perhaps unnecessary to mention, but this year has been marked by loss and tragedy, both in my personal life and when looking out at the rapid decay of the world around me. Black Metal & Brews, a website that aims to push transgressive and boundary-breaking music, has been lighter on the "black metal" lately because the rest of the universe is so crowded and chaotic that adding more harshness to my troubled mind feels pointless and potentially harmful. Still, I seek new sounds and I wish to be challenged. With that sense of exploration outside the realms of aggression, I've found myself enchanted by the second collaborative work from the trio of Aidan Baker, Simon Goff, and Thor Harris, The Bit. Sparser and with a more elusive framework than Noplace, which was already rather spectral, these three artists come together to create an album that haunts without intimidating and radiates beauty with just a few hints of unease creeping around its edges.
From the intro as it builds into the album's title track, there's something about The Bit that lends itself to contemplation, yet it also tends to take the listener out of oneself entirely. I've found myself examining the beauty in the new world that's being created just as I've sat with some of the horrors that I wish I could change or avoid. There's a sense of a sort of tunneling in the rhythm laid out by percussionist Thor Harris, but I can't tell if it's an ascent or burrowing deeper, and neither the floating guitar textures of Baker nor the sometimes frantic pace of Goff's violin provide insight. It's just a sort of motion that takes you wherever you're inclined to follow it. The greyscale approach works beautifully, shining light where it must but not providing answers that are not sought. It flows like the soundtrack to a film from another realm, yet the images are muted and obscured, sometimes coming as liquid and other times as clockwork mechanisms. It's the balance of fluidity and that motorik beat that make it neither human nor inhuman, but instead a sort of uncomfortable harmony.
While things inevitably feel like a setting of the stage for the massive closing suite of "Wild at Heart" in its 23-minute span of beauty and occasional terror, "Gait" is one song that truly captures the album's mood without giving away all its most well-hidden corners. There's a gentle, yet firm pulse backing the whole song, as beautiful layers of reverb float above. Accompanying this seemingly soothing build, however, is this back-and-forth sort of squeaking melody that sways between playful and mocking. Will it grow towards discomfort or will it resolve itself? Much of the association comes from within, but the tension the trio masterfully creates is relentless even when at its most sublime. I've written many times (often for other publications) about Aidan Baker's mastery of ambient music and how to bridge conscious and unconscious listening, but this song specifically, even among an album full of it, takes that concept to new heights. When played in the background it simply seems like a beautiful piece, yet a close listen shows a staggering depth that only enriches the experience further.
Of course, to try to sum up an album of varied compositions in a single song is folly, yet a play-by-play would demean the whole experience. Tomorrow Gizeh Records will unleash this entire album for you to enjoy and process. I sincerely hope you will. It has been both a balm for some of my suffering these past few months as well as an album I put on when I need to focus on the intensity of everything. That's a hard balance to manage, but I've gained much from it. I hope it can do the same for you.