Chris Baio, renowned Vampire Weekend bassist, follows up his critically acclaimed 2017 album, Man Of The World, with his third full length solo release, Dead Hand Control. Whilst Man Of The World dealt with the upheaval going on in the world, not only in his native America, but also that caused by Brexit, no one, not even Baio, could have predicted how the world would look in 2021.
Back in 2016 Chris Baio took his musical inspiration from the election of Donald Trump and the constant flow of noise and news generated by Brexit. On Dead Hand Control Baio references the Soviet Cold War era automatic nuclear weapons-control system but the album has a much broader prospective than exploring theories of mutually assured destruction. Baio explains, “I was looking at the past five years of American life and obsessing about topics like death, wills and nuclear war. The starting point of the record was extremely dark. But I wanted to make something that was ultimately romantic and hopeful.”
The eight tracks that make up Baio’s latest album may not immediately scream romantic and hopeful with titles like Never Never Never, Dead Hand and Caisse Noire (Slush Fund) but upon hearing Chris Baio’s new material you are quickly corrected. Dead Hand Control has already offered up three songs as singles, starting with Endless Me, Endlessly and What Do You Say When I’m Not There? that were released simultaneously last November.
Endless Me, Endlessly is an up-tempo dance flavoured slice of techno funk with conversational tones, multiple layers and an infectious retro beat where as What Do You Say When I’m Not There? is closer to a Vampire Weekend track than possibly any of the others on the album. The track fair skips along, with the help of a loose, walking bass line, tight percussion and playful backing vocals. (There’s something of an Ezra Furman feel to this track).
Baio’s latest single, released in January this year, is the album’s opener and title track, Dead Hand Control. Baio brings in more of an Indie-Folk lilt to help deliver up a song of two parts. Baio starts off with a Folk frame of mind, with a largely acoustic platform before switching at the mid-point to more of a World Music/Electro vibe as the track closes out with more Funk than Folk.
The remaining five tracks on the album include two songs that come in at over nine minutes long. Dead Hand(9m17s) is another electro enhanced song that showcases the tenderness and range of Chris Baio’s vocal and is anything but what you might imagine the song to be about. Chris imparts a tale of love as the rapid snare beat leads the song with intermittent piano and drum machine beats building the song as it flows forward.
The close out track, O.M.W(On My Way), at 9m25s, is the longest track on the album and is also a collaboration with fellow Vampire Weekender Ezra Koenig. “It’s something we started together from a beat I made and a chorus he wrote almost nine years ago,” Baio says. “Now just felt like the right time to finish it.” O.M.W is the only song on the album that Baio did not write entirely himself and it does have a slightly, but not hugely, different feel. The song still has a snare driven beat and uses many electronic nuances in the arrangement but the vocal delivery is more mellowed out and solemn. O.M.W has a balladic quality to it, a gentleness and a calmness to it that lends itself to being an excellent close out track, and Oh what a great piano solo.
Dead Hand Control may have taken root in despair (“death, wills and nuclear war”) but as Chris says “at its heart, it’s about how the only thing you can control is the way you treat the people in your life.” Whatever it’s inspiration, the result is an excellent album full of serendipitous surprises.