Baio – ‘Dead Hand Control’ review: killer Vampire Weekend side-project

The band's bassist has become a frontman in his own right with a hopeful collection that shifts from electronic dreamscapes to Talking Heads-style art-rock

Away from his day job as bassist with Vampire Weekend, Chris Baio is no stranger to side-projects, performing with experimental rock project C.Y.M. and under his electronic pop solo moniker, Baio. In between finishing his main band’s 2019 double album ‘Father of the Bride‘ and the start of last year’s lockdown, Baio wrote and recorded this third solo album. It’s the New Yorker’s most confident and cohesive solo record yet.

READ MORE: Vampire Weekend’s Chris Baio shares two new singles and tells us about recording at Damon Albarn’s studio

Some seriously world-weary themes re-emerge from the second Baoi album, 2017’s ‘Man Of The World’: the threat of nuclear war, death and a lack of control in politically uncertain times. Yet the contrast here couldn’t be starker. Baio often sounded dejected and frequently overwhelmed on his last (he tackled everything from David Bowie’s death to climate change, Trump and Brexit – often simultaneously).

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“I guess my one regret on the last record is that I made it very, very quickly,” he recently told NME, explaining how his knee-jerk reaction to politics didn’t always make for great music. “I was feeling very, very raw. I wanted to make something that was very considered and deliberate this time.”

Recorded between Damon Albarn’s 13 Studios in London and his and bandmate’s Chris Tomson’s C+C Music Factory in Los Angeles, the songs here are intricately structured, thoughtful and often hopeful. The album’s jaunty opening title-track sets the tone. “You can take my life, but you can never take my soul,” Baio defiantly croons over a simple acoustic guitar before it suddenly swells into airy, escapist electronica as the song’s protagonist does an about-turn from politics, finding hope in the familiar and loved ones close by.

There’s much more experimentation here, epitomised by the progressive ‘Dead Hand’, ‘Caisse Noire’ and ‘O.M.W’. All between seven and 10 minutes in length, they are extensive, electronic dreamscapes, with subtle hints of techno and funk, that find escape on the dancefloor and, at their best, recall New Order and Hot Chip. Standout track ‘Endless Me, Endlessly’, which channels the funkiness of Talking Heads, is the perfect complement to Baoi’s emotive baritone.

Closer ‘O.M.W.’ will be a delight for Vampire Weekend fans. Co-written with frontman Ezra Koening almost nine years ago (Baio wrote the trippy beat; Koening the lyrics), this is a ballad that teams with hope. There are overt nods to his day-job, too, on the percussive ‘Never Never Never’.

This album is a huge leap forward for Baoi. The record teams with hope, which couldn’t be more apt for a moment in which a new political era dawns and light, albeit slowly, finds its way through the darkness.

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Release date: January 29
Record label: Glassnote Records

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