Bubblin' Up: Baio
- Words: Glenn Jackson
- Photo: Chris Tomson, Thom Kaine
Chris Baio was already two albums deep into an incredibly successful career as the bass player for Vampire Weekend when he began his first serious ventures into production. That was towards the end of 2010, and after a year of extensive touring with his band, Baio had just returned to Brooklyn with some downtime at hand and a clear goal in mind: to produce tracks. Now, after the better part of a year's worth of stumbling, experimenting, and some old-fashioned trial and error, Baio has come up with a trio of summer-tinged house tunes to mark his debut into the production world, the Sunburn EP.
"I had always been interested in production, but it was something I never pursued," says Baio. "As a teenager growing up in the suburbs, I would write a song on guitar and then play it with a band. That rarely included production, which is something I regret now. I feel like I started late." Maybe so, but it sounds like he's done a pretty good job making up for lost time. At his core, it's safe to say Baio is a bonafide music nerd, someone who has been actively seeking out new music his entire life. He got an early taste for electronic music from bands like Prodigy, and later, while moonlighting as a radio DJ for WBAR (his university's station), Baio further developed his tastes, citing much of the Kompakt discography at the time as a major area of interest. The seeds were planted, and once Vampire Weekend began to take off, Baio began to find an outlet for his dance music inclinations. He explains, "When you play in a band, you do have an opportunity to DJ, and I think a lot of it consists of dudes getting drunk and playing 'Ghostbusters.' It's not about the DJing. I just knew I wanted to take it seriously, so I'd get home from tour, and I'd practice mixing." Naturally, Baio's full-on dive into DJing eventually piqued his interest in production.
The resulting debut (issued by the partially Joe Goddard-helmed Greco-Roman imprint) firmly plants Baio in the field of summery, tropical house, falling somewhere between El Guincho, Matias Aguayo, and Gold Panda. Each cut comes wrapped in a glowing (but by no means overwhelming) warmth, while fitting plenty of hand percussion, shakers, and tambourines amongst its steady kicks. These are hybrid productions, ones where the line between what is sampled and what originated by the tune's creator can be a hard one to find. This, Baio reveals, is by design, "I like the idea of making tracks where part of it is made up of organic, someone-playing-in-a-living-room sounds, but at the same time, there are these different electronic elements too. I like the idea of straddling both of those sounds in one song." Buried in Baio's milky house are washy guitars, backwards strings, glistening bells, and a handful of incredibly tasteful melodies.
The record's opener, "Sunburn Modern," rolls at a laid-back 120 bpm, lacing percussive flairs and angelic vocal chops atop a heavenly procession of thick, string-like chords. "Anonymity 1" follows by picking up the pace a bit, building a deliciously aimless procession of melodic synth and bell runs around jumping piano chords. Baio's debut offers its most intriguing production last, enlisting the vocal talents of Matias Aguayo, who adds a dazzling combination of his own intricately patterned vocals to "Tanto." Baio sounds more like a wide-eyed fan than a collaborator when he speaks of Aguayo, his praise trailing as far back as Aguayo's Closer Musik days. "For all intents and purposes, I'm a guy who plays bass in a band now taking my first steps into [electronic-music production]. There's no reason why someone like him should want to work with me, but when we sent him the track, and he was down to sing, it meant a lot to me." In the end, the fusion of the two artists' styles is seamless, and Aguayo's ability to use his voice purely as an instrument only serves to strengthen Baio's vision as a producer.
Make no mistake, Baio is no fly-by-night beatmaker, jumping on whatever semblance of a bandwagon electronic music is currently in the midst of—his passion for this side of the musical spectrum is clearly genuine, as evidenced by the quality and perspective he manages to display on his debut outing. Even in the midst of the EP's warm-weathered aesthetics, there's still a longing to the songs here, a depth that goes beyond steamy dancefloor exuberance, "I really wanted to make something that you can read to or dance to," says Baio, "For me, that's a specific thing that I'm chasing." It's an intriguing line to follow, and one it appears Baio is set to explore for the long haul with loose plans to release a single and possibly another EP by the year's end. Oh yeah, and in case you were wondering, he'll still be playing bass for Vampire Weekend, too.
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