RVNG’s FRKWAYS series has helped facilitate so many essential intergenerational collaborations I never knew I needed. On the latest, they strike gold again with Ka Baird and Pekka Airaksinen. Given Airaksinen’s passing six months after Hungry Shells was recorded, the album has an added layer of importance to it. Airaksinen and Baird created Hungry Shells in Utrecht in 2019, written and recorded around rehearsals for their performance at Le Guess Who? that year.
Where Hungry Shells excels the most is in the seamless blend of Airaksinen’s free-flowing psychedelic minimalism and Baird’s quixotic experimentation and vocal incantations. Their respective practices have a certain overlap that acts as the glue here, but working together new pathways emerge and more obvious possibilities are ignored. When Baird’s voice is warped into a tornadic choir on “Szyzgy (For Pekka)” and spills across spinning synths, whirring flutes, and forward-marching 808s, it’s like two distant points in time being brought into a single sonic point. It’s like being immersed in a jungle where strange creatures and shapes wildly flit about, each with their own timbre and tone. Dizzying and utterly beguiling, the carefully-choreographed aural chaos is beautiful and whimsical.
For decades Airaksinen carved out his own jagged valley of boundary-ignoring, pioneering sonic forms, whether with The Sperm, solo, or otherwise, but Baird’s own cosmic squeezing approach heightens those radical ideas. “Roseclouds” opens with Airaksinen tapping out a quiet, progressive rhythm and then slowly builds with sinuous leads and an oscillating crunch. By the time Baird’s incantations drift in from the celestial sphere, vocalizing passages from Airaksinen’s ODO. “And fragrance filled the earth,” Baird hollers in multiple registers, spilling magic across all the senses.
Hungry Shells carries two legacies into the foreground. Airaksinen leaves behind a goldmine that is unquestionable. Baird has already created a lifetime of aural magic in the past 20 years, yet there’s a sense that the best is still to come. Hungry Ghosts crystalizes two artistic visions passing through time’s hallucinatory wormhole in unison but looking for different exits. This moment together, though, is a gift that will push on across the astral divide.