Baio dives deep into thoughtful, dance-oriented sound

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Baio, aka Chris Baio, makes an unexpected solo debut with The Names. Through this electronica record, Baio shows his desire to break free from the genres that made him a Grammy-winning artist with Vampire Weekend, and in doing so, he creates an intimate reflection on his own identity.

Baio isn’t the first person from Vampire Weekend to work outside the band’s indie-pop trappings and delve into dance music. Lead singer Ezra Koenig helped Chromeo and SBTRKT on songs last year, and the keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij formed a band named Discovery in 2005 that mixes future-pop electronica with indie rock. Baio is the first to take a complete plunge into electronica. But on a deeper level, as shown by a post on his Facebook page, Baio set out to explore “ideas of space — of belonging, identity and finding a place in the world.” To say the least, Baio seems to have successfully created the album he wanted to make.

What makes this album stand out is the fact that the first single, “Sister of Pearl,” led most people to believe that Baio would release an album squarely within indie pop — which he made with Vampire Weekend — but with a little more Bowie thrown in. Besides “Sister of Pearl,” though, Baio discards obvious lyrics and pop for more electronic, synthesized and drum-machine-heavy instrumentation to create a melancholic mood.

From the first song, “Brainwash yyrr Face,” Baio makes it clear that he is going to take us on an ebb and flow of emotions through the soundscape he creates. The lyrics he does have aren’t particularly complex, but they do touch on depression, loneliness, love and even political issues such as drone strikes (listen to the song “I Was Born in a Marathon”). The Names isn’t your typical dance record.

Through British house, worldbeat percussion and ever-changing rhythms, the music feels as if Baio is letting go of his established stardom. He seems to make the case that music — and people in general — should never be narrowed down to a specific genre. This seems to happen to people when they win a Grammy in one of the Academy’s broad, sometimes poorly named categories.

The album will be categorized as a dance album when it comes down to it, but it’s not something you’ll be dancing to. The music is more interested in expressing intellectualism and personal identity through bleeps, riffs and insightful lyrics. Baio even references heady work such as Banksy’s Exit Through the Gift Shop and the novels of Don DeLillo. The album itself is named after one of DeLillo’s novels. Baio seems to be distancing himself from the norm, and he makes a strong statement about being yourself in a time of normalcy.

Near the end of the album, Baio repeats the lyrics “I’ve got my needs” over spare beats on the track “Needs.” This line can be read as an attempt to tell all listeners that this is the album he needed to make, refusing to compromise his sound in order to get more people to listen to it. With this album, people can learn to express their hopes and fears in new, unexpected ways. Baio certainly has.    

Contact Levi Hill at [email protected].