Baron, ‘Columns’

Posted by on May 30, 2013


Parlion, 1/13/2013

This album tricked me right off the bat. I was talking to my girlfriend about how weird it is writing about music when so much of what we get access to is in the ambient/experimental realm and how I lack the vocabulary or imagination to find fifty synonyms for “swirling synths.” While saying this, I’d hit play on Baron‘s Columns. It starts with a loop, and I said something like, “Watch. I’m going to fast forward it halfway through this track and it will still sound exactly like this.” I did, and instead of more of the same the song had completely changed; it was being led by a huge male baritone voice. I told Dwight (Editor’s Note: Verily, I am he) I wanted it and a few weeks later I’m listening to it again. It turns out that loop was only 40 seconds long and from there on the album goes nuts. So I’m dumb and Baron is really cool.

Columns is actually something of a prog-rock album. I guess when I think of prog nowadays I tend to picture getting to a show where a band from the suburbs is just cut off enough from whatever is current to have spent a lot of time arranging drastic time signature changes and doing anything they can to avoid playing in 4, even if it means adding a single extra beat after 4 bars to make it in 17 or something. Inevitably, even if they’re good at it, they seem to ruin it with a shrieking, hair-dyed-black vocalist who cannot reconcile his anger and sadness without forcing them to compete for every phrase. Baron is not this band. Baron is the kind of prog where you don’t notice any time changes because they aren’t there for the sake of themselves but for the sake of the greater picture, which in this case is the amazing Columns.

Baron sounds like a band made up of the kind of adult who is still super cool and intriguing to youngsters. I picture them being quiet and polite and attracting the stares of every developing artsy kid at whichever coffee shop they may read the papers at. The “prog-ness” of Columns is not that of Rush, but of A Love Supreme. Columns is an album with movements, with the willingness to slow down before the cloudbursts and with the maturity to restrain the explosions so that the vocals can keep their chanting consistent enough to guide you through the voyage. Visually, it’s a misty record; all the places it takes you to are subtly obfuscated through a UK haze. The nightfalls are sitting on hilltops looking at the village below; the sunrises are made diffuse by non-threatening fogs. It’s an album that makes you feel like you’ve woken up to a non-day, the kind of day where you never feel 100% present and your to-do list lacks its usual importance.

Columns succeeds at being a consistently peaceful album. Dissonance is not found in atonal structures but somehow in the very well orchestrated ambient swells which appear suddenly as if to end the songs, only to bow out again. The vocals are majestic, the thoughts are never-ending, and the message ambiguous but undoubtedly real. It is not necessary to understand them as long as you feel their effect, which is powerful and calmly optimistic, like seeing the sun come up after an acid trip that didn’t ever turn into a nightmare, knowing you’ll be able to go to bed safely and make sure the others are okay too.

Baron puts you in their world, and it happens to be a nice ol’ place to live, albeit a slightly sinister one. There are no feelings whatsoever of being at the beach, but you can take Columns on the interstate and drive sixty miles without expending too much energy avoiding crazy people. You can wake up to it and get your coffee and cigarettes in and be ready to approach the day with a holistic attitude. You can agree with your boss when he tells you about the latest overhaul to common sense and keep that shit under your hat because you know how to deal with the fucker… or you can just not go to work because you might not feel like you need to after listening to it.

It’s worth mentioning that Columns is a decidedly hi-fi album that clearly required a great deal of effort and consideration; this is not just a jam that was captured on tape. It’s epic-ness is intentional and done properly, and I really appreciate when bands take that attitude towards making something they know to be good sound really good.