The Upper Air by Fred Baty (Review)
Long-time readers of Opus might recognize the name Fred Baty. Back in the mid-to-late ’00s, Baty released two excellent recordings of solo guitar music under the Crepusculum moniker: 2006’s Sky Diaries EP and 2009’s Sing on in Silhouettes.
Not to be confused with the Polish black metal band of the same name, Baty’s Crepusculum performed a blend of deft, intricate guitar compositions and electronics that landed somewhere between folk, post-rock, and ambient. Following Sing on in Silhouettes’ release, however, Baty retired the moniker, released a handful of songs under his own name, and then basically disappeared for a decade.
Now it’s 2022 and Baty has returned with The Upper Air, a new album of guitar compositions that finds him returning to Crepusculum’s pastoral style. These eight songs are effortlessly pretty, striking a balance between graceful finger-picked melodies (both acoustic and electric) and dreamy reverb, drones, and other atmospherics.
Sometimes the songs evoke the countryside and long, meandering, destination-less drives through verdant fields at twilight (“The Upper Air,” “To Feel at a Distance”). Other times, they envision more internal environs (“Recovered Memories,” “People Unfamiliar”), but still with a sense of grace and peace. Of course, your mileage — and mental imagery — may vary. And as befitting the songs’ impressionistic nature, only one of them passes the four-minute mark; Baty doesn’t let his songs overstay their welcome, but rather, keeps them short and sweet, which only heightens the effect.
Some may find Baty’s music too pretty, too slight. But the more I listen to it, the more beguiling it becomes, like the way he weaves layers into “Unwritten” without it becoming unwieldy, or the subtle melodic shifts on “Hold Sway.” It might seem like I’m damning The Upper Air with faint praise were I to describe it as unobtrusive and inoffensive, but music this gentle and unassuming can feel like a balm in a world saturated with noise, vitriol, and clamor.