Aidan Baker & Karen Willems Nonland

Aidan Baker & Karen Willems Nonland

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Percussionist Karen Willems and guitarist Aidan Baker both have large discographies full of numerous collaborations and projects, but a trademark for both of them is a tasteful focus on texture over showmanship. The two polyglot composers teased a bit of their collaborative record earlier this year with a decent EP, and are now ready for the main event.
 
Nonland is a record of instrumental improvised music made with drums, guitar and a looper. Generally, the songs are quite spacious and meditative, but with only six tracks, each of relatively accessible lengths (in this case that means under ten minutes), the album is notably restrained. Since Willems and Baker might be better known for each of their heavier bands, In Wolves and Nadja respectively, the sound of this record might also surprise some followers.
 
This mellow, experimental sound evokes Sonic Youth at their more esoteric and Do Make Say Think, but pared down to some of the sparsest and least climactic playing any member of either band has done. That's not to say the songs are without structure; just that with Baker and Willems' restraint, a lot can happen with very minimal ingredients.
 
"Like a Soft Rain Coming" opens with gentle guitar harmonics for the first minute or so, and even when other loops are added, they support these musical 'raindrops' (Willems' drumming is some of the most un-egotistical you'll hear). The final three tracks here flow into each other nicely, and include the most head nod-able groove from both players on the penultimate track, "Digging Through Time."
 
Nonland is both a reprieve and a mystery, as much a source of comfort as an avenue for discovery. (Gizeh)