Music Review: The Names by Baio (2015)

Release: 18 September 2015
Release: 18 September 2015

For the past few days, I’ve seen the album The Names by Baio circling the internet but never really made the connection that Baio was Chris Baio of Vampire Weekend. It was a pleasant surprise and inspired me to pick the album as soon as possible. I probably would have picked it up eventually as it seems to be in heavy rotation on some of the music blogs I frequent. While a few listens would certainly make quite appreciative of the album, Baio fails to fully capture everything that makes Vampire Weekend great. His solo work is good, and features some amazing songs but quite a few forgettable ones. The album is aurally pleasing and the second half flows together nicely, which might be the album’s saving grace. All the songs seem to be part of the same larger work and their divides often go unheard, which makes for a lovely and complete listening experience that might keep me coming back to the album fairly often. The great songs are intermixed with the boring ones, but thanks to continuing themes and flowing sounds from song to song, this actually makes the bad songs better.

The album begins with “Brainwash Yyrr Face” which is a well suited introduction of the album to follow. It features a catchy beat and appealing vocals. I debate with myself if it is strongest track on the album. Track two isn’t quite so interesting. “The Names” sounds more like something you’d expect from Peter, Bjorn and John and not a side project of a Vampire Weekend member. It has a nice 80’s vibe a bit reminiscent of New Order, so if you are a fan of theirs, you’ll probably like this track. “Sister Of Pearl” begins a bit more as expected, with very Vampire Weekend-ish instrumentals, but the vocals are severely lacking in Ezra Koenig. It is an enjoyable and easily accessible song that made me hopeful that the album would be great, though a bit different from expectations. “I Was Born In A Marathon” brings me back to reality. This track sounds more like two separate songs, the first bad and the second good. The problem is both feel like half a song and make the track skippable. “Needs”, at track five, is an improvement to the last and feels like a bit of mixing between Vampire Weekend and Baio‘s 1980’s vibes. Tracks six and nine are both instrumentals, with six being the better of the two. It will keep you listening for a full album, but on a track by track basis it feels like a bit of filler. “Matter” follows at track seven and is probably the worst on the album. It again has some Peter, Bjorn and John vibes, but nowhere near as good as actual Peter, Bjorn and John. It is a softer pop song with little to keep me interested. Lucky for me track eight is “Endless Rhythm” which is arguably the best song on the album. It is heavy with piano and a bit electronic, and is like a mix of all the good things Baio did on previous tracks. It is almost enough to save the albums second half and kind of makes up for “Matters”. I find now, I am more likely to skip through the back half just to hear this one track. The last song, at track nine, is very forgettable. It sounds similar to track seven, but less unique. It almost sounds like an attempt at reprise that borrows sounds from the other songs. It doesn’t do this, but brings the album to an equally sleepy close.

Baio’s first solo release is promising. No one would doubt that he has talent, I imagine everyone involved with Vampire Weekend does. His solo work isn’t quite as good as one would hope, but it isn’t without its own charm and hooks. It feels like a happy marriage of New Order and Vampire Weekend. So if you like 80’s electronic pop and indie rock, give it a listen. Several songs will keep me coming back again and again, but ultimately it just makes me wish for another Vampire Weekend release. I planned on giving it 3 stars but after a few more listens, I find I’m enjoying it a bit more than I expected so I’ll give it that little bump up to 4.

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