- Harry Rodrigues knows how to make a lot out of a little. He launched into stardom off the back of 2012's "Harlem Shake," which became a meme less than a year later (and a number-one hit after that.) It feels like ages ago: he's since dismissed the track as "corny and annoying as fuck," and he's not wrong. At this point, it doesn't fit into his catalogue very well. The best Baauer tunes, like "Dum Dum" or "Clang," are nifty exercises in texture and arrangement, not quite club bangers. That approach can make an artist of his stature sound aloof.
Since "Harlem Shake" took hold of the mainstream in 2013, it feels like Rodrigues has been intentionally distant. His long-promised album never materialized. Instead, he released tracks here and there, from inconsequential instrumentals to big-name collaborations (Just Blaze and Fetty Wap among them). A solid EP hinted at larger things that never came, and then a cancelled world tour cast a pall over Rodrigues's future as a whole. It seemed as if he was afraid to grab his big moment (when he made a late-night TV appearance, he was as out of the picture as possible). Now, the long-delayed Baauer album has finally arrived, and though curiously slight, it's not bad. Reportedly inspired by Rodrigues's world travels in the face of his success, Aa is a smarter and more diverse record than anything he's ever released.
The 34-minute album is split between Rodrigues's two sides. On the first half, you've got the wacky instrumentals he built his name on, while the second half rounds up a bunch of rappers to show off his beatmaker side. The record starts strong, gliding through instrumentals that play on Rodrigues's strengths. He makes heavy club tracks padded by pop-calibre melodies, like the mush-mouth vocals and basslines that make "Body" feel breezy instead of booming. Elsewhere, Rodrigues turns crisp samples into crisper percussion—one of his best tricks. Brief tracks like "Pinku" and "Good & Bad," however, play more like diversions than fleshed-out ideas.
When it comes to the vocalists, Rodrigues is at their mercy. The nuclear-powered grime of "Day Ones," featuring Novelist and an explosive performance from Leikeli47, is impossible to deny. The equally raucous "Make It Bang," with TT The Artist, rides on a killer descending bassline. On the other hand, "Temple," the G Dragon and MIA team-up, isn't as good as it looks on paper. And the tracklist's eye-catcher, "Kung Fu" featuring Pusha T and Future, is neither here nor there, throwing some solid verses from Pusha over a generic beat that sounds drained of Rodrigues's personality.
Aa isn't a disappointment, but clocking in at 34 minutes with a handful of tracks that feel unfinished, it's not exactly a home run either. For an album that took almost four years, it's strange that something as beautiful as "Church," which also gets a stunning reprise with Rustie, only lasts a minute and half. Like everything Rodrigues has released thus far, Aa is a brief yet tantalizing glimmer of colourful sound.
06. Day Ones feat. Novelist & Leikeli 47
07. Good & Bad
08. Way From Me feat. Tirzah
09. Temple feat. M.I.A & G Dragon
10. Make It Bang feat. TT The Artist
11. Kung Fu feat. Pusha T & Future
12. Church Reprise feat. Rustie