IT’S HARD TO BELIEVE it’s been over three years since Baauer’s life changed forever. Not with the release of his famous “Harlem Shake”—that came out months before said life alteration—but the meme videos spawned using the producer’s song. You remember the ordeal; videos typically featured one lone dancer surrounded by others doing mundane activities, before they all join in with a well placed edit right when the bass drops. Many joined in on the craze, many more got driven up a wall. “Harlem Shake” single-handedly made Billboard change their rules for the Top 100 by including YouTube views. That alone shows how important the song was. It wasn’t just a sensation, it was a sensation that altered the rulebook. And yet, Baauer, the man behind the trap anthem, was little more than an afterthought, a simple distributor of a full-proof meme. If there was a good excuse for an artist to be sick of their own creation, it would be this. As the restraints of “Harlem Shake” weaken around Baauer, his time to emerge unfettered from gimmicky remakes is here. With Aa, he wants us to see him.
Let it be known, I’m doing Harry Rodrigues, the mastermind behind Baauer, a huge disservice by spending one fifth of my review reviewing “Harlem Shake”. It is the unshakable albatross looming over his work and the complete exclusion of references to it on Aa, both in content and sound, goes to prove just how much Baauer wanted to forget. Aa isn’t concerned about the past, or making a splash, but rather the hope that judging music off its merits alone is still a worthwhile venture. Because honestly, there isn’t much else to the debut. It’s 13 tracks, none of which escape four minutes, with the total runtime just barely etching out a half-hour. That isn’t to say the material is bare, just restrained and refined to the point where only the essentials make it. Even the collage on the cover bares resemblance to other trap artists’ pieces, like TNGHT and Rustie, who look for the minimum in a minimalistic setting. It’s very skeletal, composed primarily of ideas executed without rhyme or reason, gliding by thanks to the confidence of Rodrigues’ beatsmithing. At least that describes the first half. The second half entertains featured guests as a way of exposing potential hot-spots for Baauer activity.
The plan to divide and conquer is calculated here, not just globally, but stylistically as well. The range of features really goes to show Baauer’s diverse connectivity, pitting rap kingpins against unknown upstarts, and worldly ambassadors against mainland dwellers. That’s why you have Brooklyn native Leikeli47 and London born Novelist on “Day Ones” alongside A+ club-hoppers Pusha T and Future on “Kung-Fu”. Baauer wants us to see just how far-reaching his music can be. He tackles hip-hop on the formers, R&B on “Way From Me”, world drum n’ bass on the M.I.A. and G-Dragon assisted “Temple”, and his more prototypical eccentric trap on the rest of the scrap here. It’s an attempt to prove his genres-hopping credentials, while simultaneously showing trap’s current cultural cachet. Not all spots land though. “Make It Bang”, featuring hype woman TT The Artist, fails at sustaining depth with the large bass being the saving grace, and the herring to its inherent flaws. “Temple” runs like a M.I.A. song, obvious considering her appearance, but disappointing in knowing Baauer catered to her sounds and styles, rather than the other way around.
When Baauer isn’t providing production set pieces to a bevy of fiery artists he’s saving some of his best, and worst, works for the solo tracks. Instrumentals like “Sow” and “Body” are exactly what one could hope to wish for from the Brooklyn native. They play out like more matured trap, adding layers of vocals and third-world instruments to the same palette found on his older singles, like “Dum Dum” and “Swerve”. It isn’t just chopped vocals and contorted bass this time around, on Aa he strives to match that with some much needed density. “Sow” crackles and pops with wooden drums and a slate of unruly instrumentation, all battling a group of children chanting the title in any unusual cadence they can think of. On “Pinku”, Baauer even invites some Daft Punk influences to his dubstep territory, bringing in French electronics to offset the more formal festival sound. And be warned, or excited, this festival sound dominates many moments on Aa, with his dirty bass playing a pivotal role in the execution of each track. It even leads to a case of deliberate blue balls on finale “Aa”, where a ravaging bass/voice/alarm mash-up gives way to jungle white noise, all in the matter of a minute and seventeen seconds.
While it seems obvious given the length, Aa truly is a blur. With the fever-pitch holding constant throughout, apart from some quick dips into reflective melodrama like “Good & Bad” and “Church Reprise”, you never get the sense that Baauer is trying to waste your time. It’s time well spent, but you’re still hoping, begging in some cases, for more. Given 33 minutes you best not trip, and Baauer does that enough times to hold Aa back from the greatness it often seeps into. It’ll be interesting to see where his debut takes him, if anywhere at all. For something fans have been eagerly anticipating for upwards of four years, it’s a bit of a letdown. Baauer returns from obscurity only to show that he’s still the same man. There are glimpses of greatness, like the ambitious “Kung Fu”, a titillating marriage of Baauer’s production, Future’s hook prowess, and Pusha T’s drug lord poetics. It’s the U.S. kicker he needed, but one that will only turn sour with the discovery that nothing else on the album sounds like it. For what Aa ultimately assumes itself to be—a glorified promo tape of talents—the result is quite enjoyable. B
Read more of Brian’s writing at his blog, Dozens of Donuts.