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Able Baker’s “Spiral Bound Songs” is bleak and comforting all at once

The Madison project released its new EP in February.

Photo by Geordon Wollner.

Madison-based musician Tim Anderson’s project Able Baker may make music that sounds incredibly depressive, a mood that isn’t usually associated with motivation and productivity, but he still released a great EP even as the pandemic interrupted the recording sessions. On Spiral Bound Songs, released in February, Anderson’s careful attention to composition, coupled with production from Disq’s Isaac DeBroux-Slone and Logan Severson (full disclosure: both Severson and DeBroux-Slone are friends of mine), makes for a solid contribution to the proud legacy of sad Midwestern music.

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Spiral Bound Songs is the type of record you’d listen to while you look out a rain-pelted window, wondering where all the people in your life have gone. The EP’s release in February, objectively the bleakest month in Wisconsin, seems to highlight the project’s somber mood. Remarkably consistent with his heavy guitar tones and abrasively sad lyrics, Anderson intricately layers the songs with meditative, droning synths which smoothly swell into the shout-along choruses.

Anderson wrote most of the songs on Spiral Bound Songs way before the pandemic. They are the products of years of brooding and revision. Even so, the overarching themes of isolation and despair come off as particularly prescient. The lyrics of the opening track, “Bad Vibrations,” almost perfectly describe the banal difficulties of quarantine:

“I’m still alone waiting for something
some kind of change that could change everything
being patient is being alone.”

We might all identify as emo these days, but bad vibes existed way before COVID. The lyrics accurately describe that eerie feeling when it seems like people avoid you because you make them sad. “Bad Vibrations” sounds exactly like the opposite of the Beach Boys song it references.

The song “Death And Dismemberment,” released as the EP’s single with a creepy music video, references both the name for a life insurance policy for accidental death and a 2003 tour documentary featuring two key influences on the band, Death Cab For Cutie and The Dismemberment Plan. Anderson’s voice even sounds pleasantly close to Death Cab For Cutie lead singer Ben Gibbard’s. In “Death and Dismemberment,” bloody imagery appears alongside depressingly hyperbolic questions like “How is slow death any different from a long life filled with regret?” Anderson says that  “Death and Dismemberment” sounds over-dramatic because it mimics thinking patterns that can lead an individual into unwarranted despair. 

“When you think about mistakes that you made just in your head, it’s easy to blow them out of proportion, and feel like it’s the end of the world,” Anderson says. 

The song “Kata,” named after a complicated karate move Anderson had trouble mastering, lightens the mood a bit, as the lyrics acknowledge the power of meditation to maintain control over unruly thoughts. It also features an “ostrich” tuning on the guitars, a notorious tuning often associated with Lou Reed in which every string is tuned to the same note. 

“We turned the lights down low and droned on [‘Kata’] for about seven minutes. Very relaxing,” recalls Anderson. 

Spiral Bound Songs offers listeners an honest and vulnerable portrayal of emotions that might be familiar, yet somewhat new for those who haven’t experienced prolonged isolation before. It can be helpful to hear the artistic version of someone else’s difficult emotions to remember that no one goes through those emotions truly alone. 

Speaking of not being alone, Anderson is currently looking for bandmates. Contact him through his Bandcamp page if you want to help bring these songs to life on stage.

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