Baauer Samples the Globe, Strides Into New Beginnings with 'Aa' [Album Review]

March 24, 2016 -

Milli Encarnacion

The formula for an Internet sensation in the style of Baauer is as follows: 1) Experiment with synths and vocal samples. 2) Mash them up into a track. 3) Send it out to anyone willing to listen. 4) Watch the track blow up into an Internet sensation. Harry Rodrigues didn't expect his career to blast off this way back in 2012, when he was a budding producer. "Harlem Shake" became the skeleton of a historical meme; currently, one YouTube search for videos featuring the prominent dance yields hundreds of thousands of results. Rodrigues spent much of the period following his sudden shot to stardom trying to shake off his image as the poster boy of a viral dance phenomenon. His efforts to do so, including his 2014 ß EP and a handful of slots at major music festivals, proved successful. Finally, with his debut album, Aa, Baauer's continuous strides forward culminate into an admirable climax that begs to be paralleled.

Rodrigues was raised as a resident of the globe. Due to his father's work, the West Philadelphia-born producer spent his adolescence in Germany, London, and Connecticut, and now calls Brooklyn his home. This, along with consistent touring, has undoubtedly offered him a broad view of music from around the world; global influence reflects greatly in Aa. Rodrigues invited several artists, including M.I.A.Pusha T, Future, G-Dragon, and Novelist to help shape the sound of the record. Its thirteen tracks experiment with samplings of UK garage, Baltimore club, grime, and more, with the common foundation of Rodrigues' style of fully loaded, synth-favoring hip-hop.

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"Church," the opening track, rightfully sets the tone for the record. Reaching beyond the familiar club-banger tunes we've come to expect from Baauer, "Church" is an airy introduction with minimal percussive elements. Similar tones are echoed throughout Aa, most clearly in "Good & Bad" and the Rustie-assisted "Church Reprise." "Body" combines ambience with a mellow hint of UK garage. Rodrigues' penchant for contrast in textures is exemplified in the way these tracks are tucked in between the album's more sonorous numbers.

"GoGo!" was released last fall as an early teaser to the album. Catchy and clamorous, the single explodes into an array of clanging notes that are overlaid with snares and hand-claps. Simultaneously, although it's a clear banger, "GoGo!" still manages to be melancholy - a characteristic further symbolized in its accompanying music video. But perhaps the most radio-friendly track from Aa is "Kung Fu," a collaboration between Baauer, Pusha T, and Future. This ready-made hit arguably may be many casual listeners' first time hearing anything from Baauer since "Harlem Shake." Pusha T's relentless rhymes marry beautifully with a bass-laden beat as Future croons for the listener to "whip it up." As countless positive reactions toward "Kung Fu" continue to multiply on various social media outlets - including YouTube, the same outlet that catapulted Rodrigues to fame - one can't deny the artist's progression since that glorified video meme from years ago.

"Temple" is a dream-come-true for Rodrigues, who cites collaborator M.I.A. as "a huge influence when I was younger" in an interview with The Fader. The heavy-hitter, which also features South Korean rapper G-Dragon, begins softly with a guided meditiation that's serene enough for a yoga class - then the notes of a shamisen ring before finally melting into the bassline. M.I.A. and G-Dragon craft an anthemic chorus in "Temple," and it molds well with Baauer's foundations in aggressive-edged production. The shamisen instrument makes another appearance in "Way from Me," an elegantly subtle display of the different worldly styles that have inspired Aa as it mashes Asian-influenced instrumental samples into a finale of UK grime.

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Baauer explores Baltimore club in "Make It Bang" with TT the Artist; throws in a bit of UK garage with "Body"; and "Sow" will keep your head bopping as the producer weaves several distorted vocal samples in and out of an infectious reggae-tinted beat.

The angst-ridden "Day Ones" is another sure-to-be cross-genre hit from Aa. It further extends Baauer's affinity toward grime, with Leikeli47 and Novelist spit-firing lyrics like ammo at the listener. The track soundtracked a subject of slight controversy back in January when Baauer and Leikeli47 performed the track on The Late Show; some criticism was drawn over Baauer's choice to sit on a sofa focused on his laptop, headphones on, as Leikeli47 took center-stage. The move was certainly an uncommon one, but respectfully, Rodrigues plays a prototype of electronic music's infamous "bedroom producer." He's an honest guy: about the performance, he tells The Fader, "I make my music with a laptop, so let’s just put me there with a laptop, and then put some more theatrical stuff around it." In retrospect, the performance not only focused on Leikeli47's lyrical talent, but also Rodrigues' break from the boundaries of mainstream electronic culture - boundaries that mandate producers to mimic DJing whenever they're on stage.

Social media is a vicious villain when it comes to memes, with most subjects finding it difficult to climb back out of the Internet's black hole. Remember Psy and Antoine Dodson? I presume it's safe to say that their peaks have passed. In great contrast, with Aa, Baauer prosperously lays to rest his stigma as a simple viral sensation. This week, the album creeps up to Number 2 on the iTunes Electronic charts and is garnering highly favorable reviews from common listeners. It's all setting off a current for higher rankings to follow.

Follow Baauer: Facebook, Soundcloud, Twitter


Baauer will be performing at Webster Hall in New York City on Friday, March 25th, 2016, before upcoming dates in Washington, D.C., Denver, and Coachella. Tickets for Friday's show are available here.

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