The Upshot: Freak folk refugee devises eerie sonic landscapes and piercing art songs that split the distance between lieder and Sun Ra.
BY JENNIFER KELLY
Ka Baird co-founded one of the aughts’ wilder denizens of freak folk, the all-female collective Spires that in the Sunset Rise, whose rash, raging, multi-ethnic experiments were more in line with Sun City Girls than any well-behaved 1960s distaff folk rocker. That foursome was never without its creative tensions, so it’s interesting to see her unencumbered and solo here, using flute, voice, percussion and electronics to devise eerie sonic landscapes and piercing art songs that split the distance between lieder and Sun Ra.
This solo album takes its name from a kind of protozoa that lives in mud and ooze, and indeed, Baird’s composition arise from a bed of murky improvisatory interplay that sometimes crystallizes in high lovely purity. In “Tok Tru” her flute takes pre-eminence, fuzzy overblown skitters of sound careening in and around a steady clicking beat. Sinuous and lithe, the melody takes on a Middle Eastern lilt, as the flute tones multiply, collide, contradict and join in chalky, gradiated harmonies. Baird sings a little on this one, or rather vocalizes, coming in about half way through for a ritual chant of “We are beyond the smoke and mirrors,” except the word “mirrors” is refracted into a series of shouts to seem more like an incantation than a song lyric.
The long centerpiece “Transmigration” finds a sunnier, less conflicted vibe, its massed flute tones rising in clouds like mists off the surface of a hot tropical river. Later, again, Baird sings, this time in full classical mode, high and clear and eerie. “Ka,” is one of the disc’s best, a shuffling, shape-shifting procession of flutes and whispers and hand drums, an Amazonian tapestry where flutes darting here and there like tropical birds, some shadowy and low, others brightly colored and flitting against the sky.
No question that Baird is an unconventional artist — and Sapropelic Pycnic will not be to everyone’s taste — but if you appreciate people who go all the way out there, make room for this one.
DOWNLOAD: “Transmigration,” “Ka”