Baauer shakes off “Harlem” reputation on full-length debut

Chris Duncan

Although his 2012 hit single “Harlem Shake” spawned a huge Internet meme and shot his name into the spotlight of mainstream electronica, Baauer’s breakout track looms over him to this day.

Without “Harlem Shake,” Baauer would lack the name recognition he has in today’s constantly evolving EDM scene. However, it’s clear he doesn’t want to be defined by the song’s cliché samples, mechanical basslines and heavy drops. With Aa, his debut solo record, Baauer looks to shed these typical expectations of trap music to show his diversity as an artist.

The album is noteworthy for its range, with some songs emulating familiar trap elements while others take a stab at a variety of further genres, including rap on “Day Ones” and “Kung Fu”, R&B on “Way From Me” and even channeling his inner Daft Punk during “Pinku.”

Generally speaking, these experimentations lead to impressive results. Both “Body” and “Sow” trend more toward mature trap and trop house — rather than the dance influences of “Harlem Shake” — using layered vocals and a variety of instruments outside of the typical synths to keep the attention of listeners.

The standouts continue later in the album with “Temple,” which includes an impressive feature from M.I.A. and leans heavily on its drums and basslines while still keeping a fresh feeling. Even the three interludes of Aa, which feature analog instrumentation, set the tone for several breaks from traditional trap.

Very few songs lack the gusto Baauer carries into this record. The only track that misses its mark is “Make it Bang,” which feels like a return to Baauer’s old style. Hype woman TT The Artist doesn’t contribute much to this song, and the beat falls flat. 

However, there are several small but noticeable moments when Baauer slips up creatively. “Day Ones” feels typical upon first listen and even disruptive at its position in the album‘s tracklist. The song features an extremely grimy and heavy beat immediately following five tracks of intriguing and detailed-oriented production, making it feel out of place. Although it may be a very minor component, the album’s conclusion, “Aa,” could have been a much stronger statement to enforce the album’s widespread artistic aims rather than a quick one-minute fade to black.

On top of these minor issues, there’s one glaring aspect Baauer’s music still lacks — a distinct style to associate with his name. There are so many different approaches to production featured on this album, but after a listen, it’s nearly impossible to put a finger on exactly where Baauer will go next. In the world of EDM, it’s important to have a distinctive sound to your brand and currently, Baauer does not.

The album’s first five tracks are a fantastic display of trop house and the progressive sounds of modern trance music, which could easily become Baauer’s shtick. Even though he does a lot of different styles quite well, it would benefit his career to hone onto one sound and explore it.

Aa stutters one too many times in its short 33.5-minute listen to earn the greatness it strives to achieve. But overall it shows significant progress for Baauer, who moves toward shaking off the stigma of “Harlem Shake” to find his way as an artist rather than a one-hit wonder.

Album: Aa

  • Genre: Electronic/Trap
  • Tracks: 13
  • Rating: 7/10