The instrumental bliss-out band Bitchin Bajas were all set to exist in relative obscurity—the kind reserved for residents of the sonic fringe, makers of weird art, interstellar sound travelers, Drag City artists in general, and so on. But then last year, the Chicago-based trio put out a collaborative album with odd-folk legend Bonnie “Prince” Billy, whose high profile dragged Bitchin Bajas into the knowable zone for a larger number of folks.
With more ears on the hook, then, Bitchin Bajas have returned this year with their best work yet. The perfectly titled Bajas Fresh is a dynamic set of patterned tones, docile drones and burbling dervishes that prove there is real momentum to be found in meditative music.
Take, for example, album opener “Jammu.” On its surface, the song seems like 11-plus minutes of skittering synths, collected and repeated into eternity. But a closer listen highlights additional textures that keep things interesting: the twinkling tones one minute in, the groove that locks in at around three minutes in: the playful flute at the halfway mark. It’s a lovely piece of work that never stops growing.
Elsewhere, “Circles on Circles” starts out like a field recording of some digital tide rolling in before blossoming into an ever-evolving flutter of synths, laid out hyper-rhythmically. “Yonaguni” sounds like a lo-fi capture of someone pounding on plumbing pipes with a mallet, until it shifts into a higher-fi mishmash of experimental beats and spaced-out beauty. And “2303” is 23 minutes of ambient drone that glows and pulses and slowly shapeshifts. It is very long, but it rewards patient listeners. And if you’re listening to a 23-minute-long Bitchin Bajas track, chances are decent you’re a patient listener.
Tucked into the middle of Bajas Fresh is a cover of Sun Ra’s “Angels and Demons at Play,” which finds the band stretching the original out, submerging its tick-tock rhythm and subduing Marshall Allen’s flute solos. It’s an interesting interpretation, if not necessarily vital.
The album’s closer, “Be Going,” on the other hand, might be its most instructive track. Running more than nine minutes long, the song bridges the band’s spacey and skronky interests, setting an avant-jazz sax solo against a cozy keyboard drone. A series of unexpected chords in its final third serves as a reminder that, given the chance to settle, Bitchin Bajas rarely do.
That’s the beauty of this band: When you make this kind of music, you can coast or you can strive. It’s easy to coast, but Bitchin Bajas consistently strive. It’s a pleasure to try to keep up with ‘em.