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Keef Baker – Pen Fifteen

[CD, Hymen Records]

Keith Baker has maintained a steady output of an album almost every year since his debut, “The Widnes Years”, on n5MD in 2004. Having recorded albums for Ad Noiseam and n5MD, Baker has found a home on Hymen Records, the sister label of respected German label Ant-Zen. For this release, he presents a new full-length album with the spam filter-baiting name of “Pen Fifteen”, and adds a second disc of more club-focused tracks entitled “Light City”, which is intended to be listened to as a continuous piece and represent the content of his live sets.

“Pen Fifteen” itself is an interesting prospect and showcases Baker’s ability to create unique sound combinations in his own inimitable style. He does this by fusing a range of different genres in a unique way to create something new and original. Utilising his skills as a guitarist, Baker incorporates heavy metal or shoegaze guitar themes into most of the tracks, most notably on album closer, “Sugar Daddy for Shemale”, where he takes a full-on heavy metal guitar workout and adds to it brief passages of trombone playing. Quite an unusual combination on paper, and in reality, but it actually makes much better sense when hearing the end result. Also notable is the album opener, “Getting Older”, which takes hazy shoegaze guitar and mixes it with mildly distorted half-sung, half-spoken vocals, giving the track a futuristic if slightly doleful slant. The addition of a crashing beat and emotive piano to the mix makes the track even more poignant. “Dead End” opens with a grinding heavy metal guitar and continues with a steady plodding beat and melancholic piano keys to provide subdued interlude before erupting once more towards its close. After a short stop/start beat outburst, “Skellington” unleashes a torrent of sharp breaks and driving guitar underpinned by creeping ambient tones and a demonic voice hidden deep in the mix.

A new element is introduced on “The East is Not the Enemy”, which features gentle Eastern influences in the form of flute, sitar, rhythmic drumming and percussion mixed with driving guitar, a brief choral accompaniment and electronic rhythms. “Mr Snugglebunny’s Happy Paradise is Slowly Turned Upside Down” is a track of stark contrasts, opening with a prolonged period of radiant birdsong and crisp beats before slowly taking on an entirely darker subtext to close with a torrent of hard industrial beats which mutate into the grating sound of a revving motorcycle engine mixed with electronic noise and grinding guitar. Immediately after this is “Big Dick Bricks Covered in Sick”, which starts and finishes as a gentle drifting ambient piece but in between becomes a crazed torrent of breaks and flowing electronic layers. “Setekey Sysfuckoffcunt V1” takes thudding percussive beats and off-tune piano keys and embellishes them with grandiose strings and driving guitar. On the more ambient side of things is “Sheepscar Junction”, a track with gentle melancholic piano keys paired with slow beats, crashing drums and short passages of droning shoegaze guitar.

“Light City”, the companion disc to “Pen Fifteen” is a different prospect altogether, focusing more on the electronic aspects of Baker’s work. The second disc opens with relaxed beats over a repeated mantra being broadcast around an idealised sci-fi metropolis on “The Voice of Light City”. Designed to be listened to as a single continuous track, “Light City” is a rollercoaster ride of adrenaline-fuelled energetic rhythm blasts peppered with periods of calming ambience, almost as though Baker is providing a rest stop before the next furious flurry of rhythms descends. As it progresses, it starts to really unleash its full rhythmic power, stepping things up to industrial noise levels by “Part 3: The Square”. Cunningly, however, Baker manages to discretely underpin his tracks with fluid ambient tones that creep around and lurk in the background, occasionally surfacing as the torrent of beats eventually subsides. The prominent guitar elements are still there, too, but to a much lesser degree, appearing in true James Bond style at the start of “Part 04: Acid Indigestion” or as underlying metallic textures of the generally mellower “Part 06: Cake and Black Sheep”, for example. As the journey continues Baker takes in acid house, noise, drum ‘n’ bass, industrial, breakcore, dubstep and techno to varying degrees, incorporating a diverse range of influences into his music. Switching from furious rhythms to distorted breakcore and on to glittering ambience in the space of a single track, he frequently fuses disparate musical styles, but pulls it all together in his own unique fashion.

Where “Pen Fifteen” experiments largely with combining various forms of guitar and electronica, “Light City” is more for the electronic purist. There are guitars in “Light City”, but they are used sparingly with the focus being mainly on crazy levels of BPM punctuated with calmer interludes. If “Light City” is representative of his live appearances, Baker must deliver some interesting sets with a careful balance of furious rhythms contrasted with gentler tones. There is a definite distinction between the two discs; “Pen Fifteen” is experimental and explorative while “Light City” is no-holds-barred after-hours fun.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆

Published by Connexion Bizarre

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