2nd June 2014

Since late 2011, with the release of my final Second Thought LP, Leaf Pass, I have been working with a sound I often refer to as ‘ruralism’ (as suggested by The Glimmer Room’s Andy Condon), which generally has a certain sense of warmth, a lot of nostalgia, often lo-fi production quality and frequent use of acoustic instrumentation. Over this time, I’ve produced three albums I’m really proud of (The Blackbirds’ Revenge, Photographic Reflection and East of Evening) along with a handful of other tracks I’m happy with, featured on various ephemeral releases such as the Revolution series.

However, as I was completing what was to be my fourth ruralist album, The Last Swifts of Summer, I began to feel that I had done as much with this sound as I could: I was largely repeating old ideas. Anybody who knows me (or indeed my music) will have an idea of how quickly I get bored of working with a certain sound, and change direction. This was the major reason behind the album’s demise.

With that in mind, you will notice a change of direction with my future releases*. My next album, Two Suns Were Visible in the Sky, picks up where East of Evening left off, but eschews most of that album’s pastoral sound, expanding instead on its more abstract moments (‘Ghost of Dreams Past’, ‘Beyond Evening’ etc.) Don’t worry, I’ve not suddenly started doing dubstep; if anything, Two Suns… is a transitional album, with many of the guitar parts and field recordings not so different to my previous few albums. But it will also be different. A little darker; a little less pretty; a little colder.

Since completing the album, I’ve been laying down a few ideas for my future direction, exploring different approaches. Recently I’ve begun fleshing out these ideas, and working directly on an album which will be released in early 2015. I can’t say too much about it yet – as I don’t know exactly how it’ll shape up myself – but expect something more synthetic; something that moves towards soundtracking an imaginary place, rather than capturing a real one. Having spent a few years looking to the past, I will now be focusing on the present, and possibly the future. I am very excited to be visiting new sonic worlds, and look forward to sharing them with you all. 🙂

In mind of this, you may notice some redecoration around my various online homes.

*the exception being the Clouds in the Shape of Clouds single on Plenty Wenlock, which finally gives that track a home, along with two unreleased pieces of ruralism.

26th December 2012

Well, thankfully the world didn’t end, so I can end the year on a high note.  2012 has been a very important year for me, in many, many ways.  In musical terms, it has been a year of reinvention – a chance for me to start again, work out who I am and why I am doing what I’m doing.  The Revolution sessions at the start of the year were a proper ‘year zero’ thing, stripping right back to me, an acoustic guitar, a cheap keyboard and a 4-track, for the most part.  Since then I’ve released two records I’m very proud of – The Blackbirds’ Revenge and Photographic Reflection- which have built on the ambient acoustic sound I have found so rewarding to work with.  The second half of the year I have spent recording a huge bulk of material, but thankfully have found the quality control to only select ten tracks for album number 3, East of Evening, which will be out in January.  I’m expecting the tapes to arrive just after new year, and will start dubbing them then.  I’ve had some really positive reviews and lots of great feedback from these new records.

I really do feel a sense of peace and ease with my music now that hasn’t been present since recording Safernoc and Canal Seven back in 2009.  I have a few ideas about music going forward, and think it’ll take a lot longer with more attention to detail than the somewhat stripped-back nature of the recent releases, going to work on a big, lush sound.  There’s also a very experimental record with my friend Craig, the second album as Sturmazdale, which will be appearing at some point in the coming months, and tentative work has begun on the second Curse of Kevin Carter album.

I feel like I really know who I am and what I’m doing these days, and that makes me very happy.  Roll on 2013!

30th May 2012 – Recording

I have been recording again, for the first time in a few months. I’m putting down the first parts for my next album. I have nine tracks written in terms of chords and structure, many of which originate from around the same time as Revolution 2. I’m now facing the task of writing melodies, words and arrangements to fit them. I’m planning on doing something a little more adventurous – probably closer to The Blackbirds’ Revenge in scope, although with more instrumentation. We’ll see how that goes. In slightly more ambient news, I’ve also been working on some soundtrack work, which is going to be more instrumental. I’ll be able to share more on that at a later date.

I’ve also been working on the Jesse Conner collaborative material, which has come along nicely. I’ve added words for the song ‘Home’ – which I wrote the words for and sang – to the lyrics section. Mostly very acoustic, lo-fi stuff. Pretty much what you’d expect if you’re familiar with his music and my more recent stuff. And finally there’s some Merganser material coming together, which is nice. So, feeling quite productive again. And the website has new colours and an improved ‘about’ page!

I recently started writing for Musique Machine, an online music magazine, generally doing reviews of experimental stuff. Nice to get a selection of interesting new music heading my way on a regular basis! Other than that, I have recently been enjoying:

The Future Sound of London – Environments 4
Nicola Roberts – Cinderella’s Eyes
Deaf Center – Pale Ravine
Tangerine Dream – Hyperborea
Rod Jones – A Sentimental Education

17th May 2012 – The Blackbirds’ Revenge, May Second, new tracks and the future

More release news! It seems like forever since I finished it (it’s eight months since I finished recording it, to be fair), but The Blackbirds’ Revenge finally came out last month, on cassette from Jozik Records. In stark contrast, I’ve recently uploaded some newer recordings straight to my Soundcloud, rather than following a traditional release path, which is a very liberating feeling. The two lo-fi tracks – a very melancholy song and a new acoustic version of my first ever composition, ‘Countryside Melody’ – complete the ‘childhood nostalgia’ theme which has haunted my music for the past year; the third piece is a wonderful remix of ‘A Time Before Computers’ by cubus. Last but not least, Tim’s beautiful Off Land reworking of ‘May’, ‘May 2nd’, is now available from his Bandcamp.

So far, my new music has proved pretty popular, which is nice. I’ve had some really wonderful comments from people regarding the new tracks, and this absolutely wonderful review of The Blackbirds’ Revenge. ‘Clouds in the Shape of Clouds’ even made it onto the 50th release compilation from No-Source. The response on SoundCloud has been rather more subdued – unsurprisingly, really, given there are plenty of people there who were following Second Thought’s electronic direction and not me singing along with my guitar, so that’s all fair. The most important thing is that I’m really happy with what I’ve achieved so far. Revolution 1 & 2 and The Blackbirds’ Revenge are records I felt I had to make. I really felt like I’d gone wrong somewhere with Second Thought, and the direction of everything was making me very unhappy. I felt like things had become too dark and too electronic – I can really sympathise with Gaz Cobain’s post-Dead Cities breakdown now – and I had to make something more human again. Which led to me, a 4-track and an acoustic guitar. The reason I say this all now is that this feels like the end of the first chapter of my post-Second Thought music. The three releases that have come out this year have been the main part of the healing process – thankfully I really enjoy them too – and now I think I’m ready to continue with my journey. This is the first time since I started Safernoc that I’m not waiting to release something. I have nothing recorded for the next release. I have lots of ideas written, but none are complete and nothing has been commited to tape. It’s actually a very nice position to be in. I also feel a lot more comfortable with the idea of experimenting with electronics and effects and stuff now. I don’t see myself creating an electronic record any time soon, but I want to make something a teensy bit more ‘soundscapey’ again. But I have no urgency at the minute. I don’t reckon there’ll be anything else solo from me put out this year. But the most important thing is, in terms of how I see my music, I feel as happy now as I did around the time of recording Purlieu and Safernoc. So all is good.

Anyway, that’s enough self-indulgence. Things will be quiet for a few months now, although there is the Sturmazdale album – and a promotional mix alongside it – in the summer at some point; and I’ll keep everybody updated with any recording progress as and when it happens. And there’s always Twitter to keep you updated on any interesting musical matters in the meantime.

16th February 2012 – Release updates

Well, finally there is some actual news! The Blackbirds’ Revenge will be out on Jozik in March, as part of a batch of four tapes. It will come in a rather lovely fabric sleeve (see the Jozik website for examples of this)! I should hopefully have some concrete news on an actual date (or rough date, at least) nearer the time.

There’s some further news on some collaborative pieces, too. The Off Land version of ‘May’, ‘May Second’, should be appearing on Tim’s Bandcamp page on… May 2nd, funnily enough. He’s done a wonderful job reworking the track, starting with some deconstructed versions of the main chord sequence, before heading into a really beautiful climax section and eventually fading away again. Elsewhere, my collaborative work with Craig of Loose Link is complete, and will bear the name ‘Rooms and Trees’, under the cunning alias of Sturmazdale. He’s taken a lot of my basic tracks and put them into a very different context, reflecting his current life in Melbourne. It’s not quite as dark as the original Sturmazdale, A Room and The Tree – although retains a fair bit of the sinister mood. I’m carting that off to a couple of labels who may be interested in it. Oh, and Jerky Oats closed, finally, a couple of weeks ago, with great releases from Thom and Gregg. Quite relieved not to have to go through the stress of releasing stuff there again.

It’s nice to finally have a release date for The Blackbirds’ Revenge, as I’ve recorded pretty much all I can in Maidstone with my current equipment. I need to do some mixing, mastering and a lot of listening to work out what I’m going to do with my current set of compositions. I reckon the next one will follow close behind Blackbird, but given that album’s ‘transitional’ status, that might not be such a big deal.

22nd January 2012 – Frustration, and other minor things

It’s funny, seven years ago I found myself in very much the same situation as I am now, waiting for an album to come out, and feeling guilty for making progress on future music. The Blackbirds’ Revenge has been added to the ‘coming soon’ section of the Jozik Records website, which signifies that things are definitely in motion, so hopefully that’ll be out soon. The lead times on self-released physical stuff and net releases are so much shorter that I think I’ll probably be going down the path of a combination of those in the future. Over the past year I’ve become increasingly turned off by the whole physical ‘product’ release thing. On a related note, I don’t think Bullfinch Records is really going to be happening anymore. I might retain the name for my own releases though. Similarly, I shan’t be compiling the second FSOLBoard album, Terminal Window 2; Craig (Loose Link) is putting that together though, and a couple of pieces from last year’s unheard electronic-classical sessions will be appearing on it.

Elsewhere, my good friend Tim Dwyer is currently working on an Off Land version of my Second Thought track ‘May’, which will fall somewhere between remix and cover version and will hopefully be released this May. It’s sounding great so far and I can’t wait to hear the final thing! Speaking of Off Land, Tim recently produced a podcast for Stasis Recordings called Reconnection, which features my Obliquity track ‘Erosion Reversed’. That can be heard at the Stasis site here, or on iTunes here.

I recently declined a slot for one of this year’s Awakenings shows, as in all honesty I don’t think the music I’m currently making would be at all suited to an ambient/electronic music gig (folky guitar stuff not prominent in the EM scene), and more importantly, I have no idea how I’d transfer it live without other musicians anyway! This is the last year Jez is doing Awakenings, so unless somebody takes over the reins, it could be the last chance to go to one of these gigs! So I’m hopefully going to be attending as many as possible, what with moving back to the midlands at some point.

Composition-wise, I’ve been playing with some more stuff on my 4-track. I took some speech from the television for one track which is sounding rather nice, on the only synth-based piece I’m really working on at the moment. No title for that yet. I’ve also updated the writing page with lyrics for some songs I’m working on at the moment. I’m not sure what the instrumental:song ratio will be in the future, although it’ll still be more instrumental based I think. Listening-wise, I have been going through a Talk Talk phase recently. Their progression from 80s new wave to longform, experimental acoustic post-rock is incredible, their albums come highly recommended to anyone who isn’t familiar with them. And I think that’s probably enough ranting for now! 🙂

11th January 2012 – Recording update and website bugs fixed

I’ve given the site a quick revamp due to some errors people were having with the frameset. To tie in with this slight redesign, all of the Second Thought stuff has been moved to my Bandcamp site. You can even get your hands on a Safernoc CDr there as I’ve put the remaining few copies on sale.

I’ve recently started recording some of the ideas that I’ve been writing over the last few months. A lot of them seem to be based around guitar picking. Probably due to the fact that they’ve been written on my classical guitar, and strumming generally sounds shit on a classical. I could do with a steel string acoustic really, I think that would help mix things up. The 4-track has taken a bit of getting used to, but I’m teaching myself and getting there. Hopefully! I’m not making too many plans about releasing them, as I’ve lost interest in the music industry standard ‘follow-up album’ approach to recording – I quite like the way I used to make tapes of my music to give to friends, without worrying if they were ‘proper’ releases or not, so I’m hoping future releases will retain that casual nature. It certainly worked for Aphex Twin and Peter Broderick in the past!

A few months ago I sent my friend Craig – better known as Loose Link, who I’ve remixed in the past – a lot of the unreleased material from the modern classical stuff I put together last year, and he’s working on making an album out of the session files, which will be interesting to hear once it’s done. I’ll keep you updated on that as the year goes on.

Been listening to a fair bit of stuff lately, going through a bunch of old albums I’ve got back recently, a bit of nice nostalgia there. My favourite album of recent times has been my friend Thom’s fourth Jesse Conner album, Hard-A-Port. I’ve always liked his work, but this is the first album of his that has really bowled my over. There’s a folky tinge to a lot of it that I’m hoping he continues with in the future. It’s lo-fi in a subtle, natural sounding way, and the songwriting is astoundingly mature – in an intelligent, melodic way, rather than a boring one. It’s a free download on my old Jerky Oats label and I highly recommend giving it a listen!

That’s about all for now. Should hopefully have some details on The Blackbirds’ Revenge in my next update. You can always follow my Twitter for more recording updates.

1st January 2012 – New website & new release!

Welcome to the new Ross Baker website! There are many changes, most of which reflect that this is definitely a new era, and not just Second Thought under a different name. The return of a colourful website (the first since the pre-cynical Vacuum Road Songs days), the ‘writing’ and ‘images’ sections, and first-person style are all in the aim of making this a personal site rather than just an advert for my music. Also, I’ve removed the ‘news’ page and replaced it with this blog, so I’ll be filling you in on any changes and updates in here. This means I might be a little late reporting certain things, but it’ll all be far more personal, which I think is a good compromise. Finally, the discography tidies up all the Second Thought material I endorse, alias releases and collaborations. And of course, my new material…

I hope nobody will be too disappointed to discover that some material from the A Room sessions will be appearing as part of a future release, and the album in its original format has gone. It was just all a bit cold on the whole, and I didn’t enjoy it enough. That just leaves two releases.

First up is Revolution, which is a slightly silly experimental collage of material from the pre-Second Thought tapes. After some consideration I decided it would be perfect to release today on the launch of the website, as it works as a nice pair of bookends: material recorded before Second Thought, and the first thing released afterwards. You can read more about that in the Discography and download it for free from my Bandcamp page. Note: this does not sound like the material I’ll be putting out in the future!

Secondly, and more importantly, is The Blackbirds’ Revenge, my first proper album as Ross Baker. It’s actually more of a transitional record, as it contains much of the ambient computer processing of Second Thought. You can read more about that, including tracklist and liner notes, here. It should be out on the Jozik cassette label soon, more news on that as and when it comes in.

I recently got diagnosed with Asperger’s, which came as quite a relief as it’s allowed me to make sense of a lot of things. The response from others has largely been of disbelief though. I think they should read through the older blog entries here, there is no better evidence for the utterly irrational obsessive thinking than those! That, along with a planned move back to the midlands, ties in nicely with this new site and the new musical direction (I recently got my mics and 4-track setup sorted, so it’s back to lo-fi basics) in terms of a whole new era of my life. I’ll end this blog in the way I ended my first Second Thought blog: the future’s bright, the future’s storange.

12th December 2011

Last December I put out a free EP called Christmas, as a thank you to everyone who’d stuck with me through the overbearingly tedious series of releases put out in 2010. I wanted to make the ‘free Christmas download’ a regular thing, and this year I decided to release a compilation. Another Setting Sun is a collection of unreleased or otherwise impossible-to-find tracks dating back to my first computer recordings and forward to this year. It began as an archive collection, but encouraged by how well Leaf Pass came together, I built it up to be a fully collaged album at the beginning of the year. It is out today, fittingly on No-Source, the label run by Tim Dwyer, the person who’s been listening to my music longer than anybody else other than myself and my parents. The album ends with the muffled lyric ‘I’m finally happy’, and it’s a very fitting end. With Autumn tying up the 2010 excess that I was so unhappy with, I leave Second Thought behind with a discography to be proud of.

This will be my last journal entry as Second Thought. A project which began, in its own way, twelve years and four months ago, but feels like it began several lifetimes ago, is finally over. It’s been a very strange ride. In 1999 I was creating potential CD sleeves for mine and Dale’s techno tracks, yet when in late 2000 I finally made a CD to fit one of the sleeves, it was solo material. In 2003 I finished the album I’m most proud of; in 2009 I came out of a six year writer’s block with Vacuum Road Songs to show, and a new album brewing. During my absence, a whole new MP3 and CDr scene emerged, and sadly my response was to flood it with half-baked ideas; even two more albums I’m incredibly proud of couldn’t change the fact that I’d made the Second Thought name – one I never liked much to start with – redundant. And so it ends.

Second Thought will always remind me of Hinckley, of my parents’ front room where almost all of the music I’m proud of was recorded. Three pieces in particular stand out as the most important tracks I made. ‘Station’, in May or June 2002, was a massive leap forward, thanks to an important lesson in music production. My tracks before were largely laughably amateurish sounding bleepy computer pieces; suddenly, I was making music as high quality as CDs I bought (even on its re-release in 2011 on Leaf Pass, ‘Station’ received much praise). A few months later I wrote ‘Rooftops’, which had almost everybody who listened to it gushing: not only had I made music that impressed me, but I’d made music that impressed others. ‘Rooftops’ got the attetion of Joe at Project Aristotle, who then wanted to release Purlieu – suddenly I felt like my music was validated. When I recorded ‘Savernake’ in February 2009, I’d almost given up Second Thought for good, but gave it one more go. Somehow, I managed to record something much punchier and ‘professional’ sounding than ever before; not only that, but the track was great! ‘Savernake’ rescued Second Thought.

Those aren’t my favourite tracks, just the most important. If I had to pick my favourite tracks recorded as Second Thought, they would be ‘May’, ‘Aqueduct’, ‘Machine’, ‘Time’, ‘Gone Forever’ and my collaboration with Full-Source, ‘The Significant Other’. They might not be the most representitive pieces – barely any piano! – but as individual tracks they work marvellously. I can’t say any more about them.

There are a lot of people I’d like to thank, most of whom I’ve probably not thanked, or at least thanked enough, in the past. Chris Sisk, for the Fruityloops tutorial in 2002 that shaped my music; Joe Dobzynski, for the passion and belief in Purlieu that gave me the courage to release it on CD; Tim Dwyer for still listening after all these years, and the countless collaborative projects; Jack Anderton for listening as a fan as well as a friend; Lucy for supporting me when everything seemed wrong; and Brian Dougans, Gaz Cobain and Graham Hicks for things I cannot begin to put into words. Without knowing it, every one of you has stopped me from giving up at one point or another.

Thank you to Thom, Gregg, Muzz, Arron, Rufus, Themis, Liam, Pippa, John Sherwood, Andy B, Andy C, Dell, Matt and Ben, for listening, caring and making it all worthwhile. I hope you find something to enjoy in the music I put out in the future.

Most of all, I’d like to thank Dale Clarke. You’re almost certainly not reading, and we haven’t been in touch in years, but it was that afternoon in your room in August 1999 when you suggested making some music – seriously this time, rather than singing along to The Shadows and Chicane – that started everything. It might have fallen apart after a year, but the enthusiasm you brought out in the both of us inspired me to take my own music that extra step, buy a keyboard, get some software and start actually writing music. If that conversation had never happened, it would have taken me years to get past the stage of just recording some tapes in my room on my guitar, and I certainly wouldn’t be in the position I am today. So thank you.

A brief diversion and something I used to do and wanted to get back to doing, my top ten albums of 2011:

Deaf Centre – Owl Splinters
Jack Anderton – The Missing Couple
Jesse Conner – Hard-A-Port
Wire – Red Barked Trees
Thursday – No Devolucion
Underworld – Frankenstein Soundtrack
Roddy Woomble – The Impossible Song & Other Songs
The Streets – Computers and Blues
Full-Source – Farewell These Unknown Suns
Jack Anderton – Riparian Forest

Honourable mentions go to Off Land and Current 93.

There’s a whole new website with a tidied up discography, news on The Blackbirds’ Revenge and so on coming in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, I’ve put up some details of my pre-Purlieu releases on the front page, for the few who may be interested, and for nostalgia’s sake. I hope everybody has a wonderful Christmas and New Year. For now, thank you so much for reading, and… goodbye.

5th November 2011

I’ve got label stuff sorted for The Blackbirds’ Revenge, which is good – coming soon to a cassette label near you (or probably not, unless you live in Finland). I was thinking about how different it will seem compared to my previous albums, but in many ways it shouldn’t come as too much of surprise. It depends how you perceive my previous music. Part of the shunning of Aeolian Landform, the 2010 releases and other stuff from my catalogue was due to it not seeming personal. While my first three albums might not seem personal, they weren’t massive widescreen soundtracks either. Purlieu was based very much on the Leicestershire countryside I was so familiar with; Vacuum Road Songs started with my fascination with city life and ended with my experience of it; Safernoc explored my interest and fascination with ghost stories, myths and legends. Otherwise, Since Every Hour is Too Late adopted a track-by-track emotional approach, and Leaf Pass was more gentle, rural and even acoustic in sound, with the presence of an actual song – ‘Anticipated Lies’ (admittedly muffled and placed in the background). The Blackbirds’ Revenge – and my music to come – will continue in the spirit of all of these albums, but particularly the elements of the last two albums that I highlighted there. The music will remain as personal (and inspired by my life and surroundings) as ever – maybe just in a slightly more obvious way.

It’s rather typical that as I’m rounding things up for Second Thought – just two months to go – the name is getting more attention than ever before. I’ve had several positive reviews for Safernoc, Since Every Hour is Too Late and Leaf Pass lately, and the Nearby Forest mix is now available to download from The New Worck. And another appearance on an FSOL Electric Brain Storm mix. After a long period of self-doubt, the last few months have seen such genuine interest and passion for my music that it’s really settled my mind.

In slightly less positive news, college didn’t work out too well, for a number of reasons that I shan’t go into here. So music is slightly higher on the agenda again, but I’m still on the playing guitar and coming up with little ideas front rather than taking it much further – once I get some more recording equipment and The Blackbirds’ Revenge is out, I can maybe make some progress. Next year probably.