“I’ve learned that I know even less than the little I thought I knew.”
The past year, pretty much, has been a whirlwind for everybody that lives on planet Earth. We haven’t been given a day’s break, and Chris Baio hasn’t given himself one in putting together his latest record, Man of the World – a documentation of his thoughts and feelings post-Brexit, and post-Trump.
“Making this album was wildly different from making my first record, The Names, because it really was a direct result of what was happening in the world. I felt like I absolutely needed to make an album, to preserve my own sanity more than anything else.” He explains. Urgency runs like a vein throughout the record. Bass pulses freely fighting its way out of any constraints, groove tickles its way into the body, and words slip from the tongue; candid, sometimes awkward, and honest. As an American living in the UK and touring his music, Baio pulls from his surroundings and their consequent change. “It came together urgently and quickly, whereas The Names was a much more drawn out process.”
Wanting his music to be “about tension and release”, the songs at first listen may be mistaken for jubilant cause. They’re deliciously upbeat. Hanging with jingly guitar, moments of electronica add a futuristic feel and his distinctive vocal spirals into the core, making the songs his own. Yet there’s a looming darkness. His oddball take on the romantic ballad ‘Be Mine’ discusses his own anxieties scrawled like a diary entry, and the melodic ‘PHILOSOPHY!’ focuses on the modern day relationship communication breakdowns. ‘Out of Tune’ swings to the same motion as a jump-rope, all airy and high but has a message of disdain.
“Having happy sounding songs with dark lyrics is a way to explore the tension part of the equation.” He explains, and there’s nothing more poignant than the chorus of ‘Vin Mariani’ – named after a 19th century cocktail of red wine and cocaine, as the rush becomes reckless with the chorus singing; “Learning to live with a decision / When it’s not the one I would have made / Learning to live with a decision / When the consequence is rather grave.”
Baio is no stranger to the road, he’s toured it endlessly during his time in Vampire Weekend, and he was on it witnessing first-hand the changes of last year. “In a weird way, touring as a musician can be both deeply humanising and deeply dehumanising.” He tells, “You get on this sort of treadmill, where your day is built around traveling to the next venue, soundchecking, performing and going to sleep.” Driving around Europe to promote the first record allowed him to see the beauty of the world, in particular the Alps in March, “an incredibly stunning experience.” But ultimately “the monotony of it can numb you.” He weighs up the options of getting to visit new places and meet great people, explaining, “I always try to be aware of my surroundings but I also try to realise my shortcomings as a person traveling through the world. Also, I’m always picking up music, wherever I go!”
Self-doubt and anxiety creeps its way into the sugar-coated record. ‘Shame in my Name’ is a seven minute rollercoaster that hits highs before plummeting into an all-encasing low. ‘DANGEROUE ANAMAL’ is stormy, very suited to his niggling regrets of being a meat eater and car driver, recognising his contribution to climate change. Even ‘Sensitive Guy’ exclaims ‘do you think I’m a doofus, please answer me’ to a snazzy, almost acrobatic beat. With lyrics so out there they could be read as satire, Baio assures that they’re true and sensitivity is embedded as a personality trait. “The pros?” he asks, “I try to stay in touch with my feelings. The cons? Well, even my tears cry.” The horn fanfare at the end acts as his single favourite moment of the collection, for “it feels tremendously triumphant yet deeply mournful.”
Believing that “a sad song make you feel less alone in your sadness” whereas, “a happy song makes you feel happier as a single person” the album hits like cinnamon, for the sugary rush leaves a darker aftertaste. Explaining, “I almost felt like I was blacked out on a bender while I was working on this record”, Baio recognises the double side of the tracks. “That said, the entire time I was making the track ‘Exquisite Interlude’ I had a difficult time not crying from laughing. There are many stages in making a song; writing the lyrics, programming the drums, recording the instrumentalists, mixing & mastering. I did a lot of laughing at every stage in the process.” This made making the album the “most cathartic experience” of his life.
There’s an undeniable trace of danceability to the tracks, a tempting pull that makes you want to move to songs about tragedies. In a way, that reflects us today. Amidst the shitstorm, people are coming together, they’re nodding their heads in growing groups to the same beats and wanting to move forward. In that essence, the songs have a stomp to them.
“Be kind, be cognizant, and press for a progressive future.”
Words by Tanyel Gumushan