Aidan – Self Portrait

 Aidan – Self Portrait

Aidan – Self Portrait – Album Review

The emotionally-based adventures of Aidan continue.

If you’ve been keeping up with our page this year, you’re plenty familiar with the name Aidan by now – this will be the third record this year we’ve examined by the young artist finding his way into the scene.  And by finding his way, I generally mean, doing his own thing, wherever that may take him.  I’ve always found it really easy to connect to the melancholy vibes he creates in his music…kindred souls I suppose.

Whether it’s a widely accessible style he’s onto or not remains another question.  Quite honestly, I’m not even sure that it matters…I think Aidan makes music for therapeutic purposes and if self-healing is the ultimate goal, there’s no better vehicle that I know of than music that can take a person there.  I know what I like personally…I like genuine emotion and real connection in music…regardless of the sound, regardless of the production, regardless of an artist or band’s capabilities even – just make it authentic!  That’s why the music of Aidan appeals to me so much…it all comes from such a real place inside him, down deep where the feelings live; but perhaps what I appreciate even more is that he’s always had the courage to acknowledge those emotions, good ones & bad, & bring them to the surface.

Self Portrait begins with an amazing cut; a song called “I Didn’t Eat Tonight.”  Moving slower-than-slow and starting the song off with what’s essentially nearly fifteen seconds of silence is definitely a risk to put at the beginning of a record, there’s no doubt about that – but I think this pays off completely.  The lethargy in the tempo is the embodiment of the title itself, think about it for a second.  If YOU didn’t eat tonight, you’re not gonna sit down and feel like busting out some Top 40 tunes are ya?  Not like you’ll be sitting down at the piano to play “Great Balls Of Fire” by Jerry Lee Lewis – you’d be sitting down at the piano, contemplating hunger, contemplating life, processing emotions as they come at you – which is to me, exactly what “I Didn’t Eat Tonight” sounded like.  The piano is gorgeously melancholy…every note & tone he plays on this tune really punches the heartstrings and moves at a completely captivating pace.  Aidan’s using the space magnificently on this opening tune in my opinion.  There can be a raging debate over whether or not you can/can’t get away with a track one that is this sleepy in its tempo I guess – but for fans of his music, you’ll definitely love it, and for the rest of you out there, “I Didn’t Eat Tonight” still gives you a good snapshot of the depths of ideas, sounds, & emotions that Aidan is willing to dive into.  For myself personally though, after having listened to several of this guy’s records, I’d put this first track up there with some of my absolute favorites from his catalog…for me, this was a fantastic start.

Borrowing a page from the Frightened Rabbit playbook for “Drove Home With Tears In My Eyes” and then sprinkling a bit of Mogwai, Explosions In The Sky, or Fuck Buttons magic into the mix in a mid-song transition, Aidan takes an intimate moment and expands it massively on this second cut.  From the moment those guitar tones started ringing out, I had chills…it’s the sound of something special forming, right away, and your ears can’t deny it.  I never really expect the dude to start singing, so that was definitely a surprise on that first spin through, but a welcome one.  At the end of the day, I’ve been listening to Aidan long enough to know that he’s slowly adding this piece of the puzzle to his music; it’s not a guaranteed staple of his style/sound, nor does it need to be, nor does he rely on his vocals to get a song to work.  I would imagine he would state he’s an artist and leave it at that.  If the song or idea calls for vocals, he knows he can provide’em, but they’re not his most major strength and truthfully, he speaks just as strongly through his music as he does through the microphone, if not more so.  That being said, I really think the majority of what he’s doing on “Drove Home With Tears In My Eyes” really worked – I think he found a gear, style, and sound that really complemented the vibe he was searching for.  I also really dig that, because he’s not necessarily attached to the vocals like so many singers ARE (Read: I gotta hear my voice at all times because I’m a STAR BABY oh yeah!), he’ll boldly sink himself so far into the music that it’ll nearly completely swallow him whole at the song’s peak intensity.  Again, that’s not everyone’s jam and I can recognize that…some of you out there want to be able to sing along at all times – but I’d argue that’s not what every song is gonna be for, you feel me?  Aidan gets awesomely introspective on this track, going so far inside of his thoughts that they eventually become consumed by the music – I think that’s an amazing twist and sharply observational songwriting that connects on several levels.  Production-wise, it’s got a few tics…the result of how Aidan typically approaches making his music live & on-the-fly quite often…you can hear a couple switches being turned off & on at times on this tune…sometimes it leads to a humble quality in his sound that I really dig…on this one, I kinda felt like “Drove Home With Tears In My Eyes” deserved to keep its smoother vibe uncluttered & clear.  For myself, as much as I love the way this song evolves into something massive by the end, it was the stark clarity and pure emotion in the vocals that you can hear throughout the sparse opening moments that felt like the connected the strongest.

And I know that he’s essentially an ambient dude…but he IS taking chances with people’s patience when it comes to the silence that seems to open each tune.  First cut’s about fifteen seconds, second cut’s about twenty – and on the third, “Wax Head,” we’re talking nearly forty seconds of near silence.  There are all kinds of ways to build cohesion into a record…I’m not entirely sure that sheer silence is the route you wanna take to do that, know what I’m saying?  Manscape those songs a bit homie…trim’em up!  Of course, with that in mind, if you didn’t have a bit of silence or something in between the end of the last track and the first explosive moments of sound on “Wax Head” you’d probably jolt yourself into next Wednesday from the shock.  Those first moments of sound come out roaring and exciting for sure – it’s a boost of energy into the record and you definitely don’t see it coming at ya.  Eventually “Wax Head” will settle into a more chilled-out vibe around the two & a half-minute mark…and from there you end up in an adventurous journey in sound that wanders a bit towards its third-minute before finding its real strengths.  As Aidan takes this song through its dreamy vibe, he eventually breaks it down to just a couple guitar tones ringing out through the mid-section of this song before coming back with an entirely different, almost bluesy post-rock vibe in a charismatic & character filled slow solo moment.  “Wax Head” roams through both sides of the extremes of sound from raging loud at the beginning to the serene quiet of its middle, progressively changing and shifting its sound along the way in multiple directions.  When Aidan cranks it up again around 6:45, “Wax Head” finds seriously badass energy & sound, getting all kinds of gnarly with the guitars & low-end infusion, creating a massive sound that definitely makes a huge impact before he breaks it down and deconstructs this tune to its final seconds.

Musically, I think “Does Art” is another strong example of the killer vibes that Aidan is capable of creating.  Vocally, production-wise, it MIGHT need some work; due to the lyrics and theme, that MIGHT also be debatable.  Ultimately “Does Art” is about art, questioning art, what is art, what makes art…and of course that’s been a debate that’s raged for much longer than anyone alive & reading this has been around for.  Do you need to have every corner rounded out for something to become art?  Is there beauty in imperfection?  Can those slight imperfections be the redeeming qualities or perhaps even the dominant ones?  I suppose…you kinda gotta hand it to Aidan…I’m pretty sure much of this is intentional, but he really has created a thought-provoking tune by tackling this song the way that he has.  Really tough call to be sure and honestly I couldn’t tell you whether or not he’s so loose here on the mic on purpose or not; what I can tell you, is that the idea itself, is 100% awesome.  Like you can hear the melody-line he’s created & vocal-flow are definitely strong ideas…as to whether or not the style he’s chosen here is gonna work for you is gonna be up to you.  I felt like he needed another go or two at this one…again, I think the idea is one with real potential…taking that time to smooth out those dissonant tones in the vocals could go a long, long way here on “Does Art.”  When he gets it right, you can hear it; you can hear how much it adds to the melody of the bass-lines in the music & overall vibe…so you know he’s capable…there’s just a few scattered moments where that tone wanders a bit more than maybe it should.  Production-wise, I think the loud/quiet of this tune might be a bit too widespread…I’d bring some of those lead guitars & cymbals crashing down a couple notches to keep the vibe smoother and the idea intact.  Could just be me…you know it’s my thing to sit here and pick apart people’s hard work and heartfelt efforts relentless to the most ridiculous degree…so take it with a grain of salt or two.

I really dig what he’s got goin’ on with “Alexithymia” and the way he pursues bending like, you know, ALL of space & time around you while this song plays on.  A very clever and anti-typical sound, the smart evolution of “Alexithymia” is almost like a melody in full meltdown…but like, in a good way, if that makes any sense.  Loved the warm glow of the atmosphere in the music, love the distance and tone on the guitars that start out this tune…exceptionally serene and sincere, Aidan’s got a mellow vibe that really hits the mark here – and you’d THINK that he might be inclined to leave it that way!  But no…the man has other plans in-store for ya – and they’re really, really good ones that lead him right to victory.  The addition of the beat just past the two-minute mark = perfection.  The further addition of the…hmm…like…woodblock sound?  Not sure what creates it…call it percussion of sorts…bottom line, it was another subtle switch and smart twist that really added to the song.  There’s really excellent balance to this entire idea that will satisfy everyone out there on some level; if you’re looking for straight-ahead melody, he’s gonna give that to you for three-minutes and fifteen seconds of “Alexithymia” – and for those of you looking for that signature Aidan style of taking something normal and giving it more character than you’d expect, he’s got you covered for the final two minutes or so.  In many ways, this cut becomes quite like a defined Part I & Part II – but the entire experience as a whole really hit the mark for me…I loved the clarity in the beginning just as much as I ended up loving the craziness that develops at the end – awesome textures in sound in the latter-half of this tune.  Forty seconds of silence or so at the end of the cut…Aidan…my brother…trim it up, trim it up, trim it up!

He’s nailing it on “Early Waves” – another highlight not just on this record, but in the man’s catalog.  I love how this innocent-like opening noodling away on the melody-line develops and becomes the main idea…it’s a really beautiful sound he’s got working for him on this cut.  Loved the ambient sounds that creep into this mix as well…a real example of how these elements can add so strongly to the environments & atmospheres he creates.  Guitar tones are on-point and wildly expressive in all the right ways – they’re largely responsible for the main transitions in sound, mood, & emotion throughout this song.  Aidan’s working with a vibe similar to the more upbeat & beautified moments from The Cure and the fantastical way that their music developed on the songs they put out over their last two or three records.  They were ambitious in their structures and complex in their emotions, presented in a smooth & inviting sound that beckoned you in to listen and your mind to wander with them, just like “Early Waves” gives you the opportunity to.  I like how it seems to dip into a pensive & serious mid-section of the song as well…taking the vibe to a different place entirely for a moment before coming back sounding more blissfully celebratory than ever into a wonderfully full and massively satisfying moment in time, perfectly deconstructing it once again and breaking it down immaculately to end the song.  Love it.

The opening drones of “Lost” sound ominous, hollow, and desolate…the distance in the mix with the guitars furthering that emptiness you hear hanging in the atmosphere of this song’s every second.  The second-half of this record has revealed stunning tune after stunning tune, and here we are again with another amazing cut that digs deep into the low-end rumble to pull out some bold emotions in sound.  Everything drifts & floats along throughout “Lost” – a title that seems to become very apt to describe the nature of this tune and the theme driving it…there’s a hopeless feeling in the air that clings to your bones on this one.  So yes, I loved it.  What can I say?  I dig desolate tunes yo!  I mean, I’m not going to go as far as to haul out “Lost” at 3am in the morning trying to keep a party going of course – but there are more moments in life where I think a song like “Lost” applies to than when it doesn’t.  Definitely part of what’s essentially a bulletproof second-half of Self Portrait, “Lost” serves up an emotional adventure that I’d be more than fine listening to adrift at sea for days with no end in sight.  I mention the sea specifically…I don’t know what it is about “Lost” exactly, but it totally reminded me of how you can look at the water sometimes from overhead and it seems like it’s actually moving in every direction at once.  I felt like that was the major strength of this tune…how each and every move this track made was such a bold step in a certain direction, crashing and thrashing, colliding and turbulent as they combine…all in a way that you can’t take your attention away from, lest you get washed over or taken right into its depth.

Ending on one final highlight in a series of many, “Where’s Home From Here?” is a really powerful & moving melody.  A fine example of how the organic nature of the way Aidan approaches music can work to his benefit, this track is executed with real heart, allowing the tiniest of slips in the metering to actually be welcomed rather than dismissed as flaws.  He plays with genuine expression…most of the time that measures up just as you’d expect to the beat, but he’s also an artist that’s unafraid to color outside of the lines…while I could notice it in a few spots, more-so in the song’s second-half after the break, I never once felt like it was a detriment to this song so much as it provided a further honesty to the sound.  As far as the main hook of the melody of this track is concerned, it’s all aces for Aidan here…I think he’s written something so appealing here that anyone out there would forgive a millisecond or two out of place in favor of getting something this real coming through their speakers.  Dude’s really kicking up a storm on those drums back there on the throne at times too…nice to hear him branch out and challenge himself a bit more in that aspect on this cut as well.  “Where’s Home From Here?” was hypnotically addictive…as much as I’ve enjoyed the majority of this record, I kept coming back to this one, allowing it to repeat, spinning it over & over, allowing myself to really get lost in the imaginative and expressive music that Aidan creates.  Like LISTEN to those guitar highlights around the ninety-second mark and how they carry on afterwards…dude has a genuine gift for communicating through music that is always remarkable to experience and listen to – Self Portrait is no exception to that rule.

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