The phrase ‘droning on’ typically has negative connotations. It brings to mind someone - or something - going on and on and on and on, repeating the same thing endlessly in a lifeless monotone, with little or no hope of ever switching to a more compelling gear. However, applying the same phrase to describe the contents of Rebajas is intended as a compliment.
For it is a fact that Bitchin Bajas (an electronic project of Cave keyboardist Cooper Crain) have been doing precisely that - droning on - ever since their first album emerged in 2010. Compiling that prolific Chicago trio’s entire output up until last year’s Bajas Fresh album on CD for the first time, this epic seven-disc set follows the group as they gradually perfect their ability to render basic core materials - semi-endless loops, monolithic drones, wheezes, hiccups and cooing of analogue synths - into a musical equivalent of precious minerals.
Rebajas starts as a fairly straightforward mission to testify the joys of repetition practiced by, say, such founders of minimalist composition as Terry Riley (there’s a track - “In T” - named in homage to both the iconic composer and “In C”, his most famous composition) and vintage explorers in search of the core of kosmische sound ala Harmonia, Cluster and Popol Vuh. The trio’s templates gradually bloom into a more singular and fresh sound as Bitchin Bajas allow additional elements to enter their initially spartan canvas, as well as looking further afield for inspiration in tracks such as a hauntingly creepy-crawling cover of space-jazz hero Sun Ra Arkestra’s “Angels and Demons at Play”. The result is a beguiling set that gives every impression that Bitchin Bajas had their identity and approach nailed from the start whilst also offering ample evidence of just how much the trio’s sound has expanded and evolved. It’s continued to grow since the cut-off point for this set, too: the band’s recent collaborative LP with Bonnie Prince Billy is unfortunately not included here.
The trio’s dedication to riding a loop into the end of its natural lifespan (sometimes perhaps applying CPR and life support to keep a particularly sweet drone bubbling for longer) means that several tracks contained amongst this overwhelming feast of sound threaten to crash the 20-minute barrier. Tracks often forego the intensity-boosting dynamics of gradually building into a dramatic climax in favour of just abruptly stopping, therefore suggesting the droning slab of sound is still a going concern in some particularly groovy corner of the cosmos. This could lead to drab monotony that leans too heavily on the listener’s willingness to find admirable hypnotic potential in a steadfast refusal to change pace. However, the trio are astute enough to be awareness of this risk. As the set progresses, new elements - loping beats and melodic hooks (“Bajas Ragas”), Neu!-inspired motorik grooves (“Krausened”), piercingly blissful, cloud-surfing guitars (the aptly titled “Trancendenscence”), wailing horns (the beatific closer “Be Going”, which isn’t that far removed from the fusion of jazz and electronics explored on recent albums by Szun Waves and James Holden) - enter the frame, creating simultaneously minimalist and maximalist pieces that - at their best - are compelling enough to stop time.