Slint at The Fillmore – 25/8/2014

31 Aug

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I know Slint for one thing and one thing only, their second album Spiderland. Spiderland defined a genre. All of the Mogwai and Godspeed You! Black Emperor you have ever loved have roots in this album. Slint is what music cults are all about and exactly the kind of band that you want to see live.

Their music is deeply absorbing. They have the trick of making musical patterns that pull you inexorably in. You can almost feel the descending notes spiral around you, dragging you where they will. Hearing it live adds a new intensity and a new menace. They are not the most active of performers, but their music is not about the people, it is about the sound.

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This is what concerts like these are about. They are about sinking into the music, having it surround you for the one and a half hours that it goes on and then walking back out into the cold world and trying desperately to recall those moments and express just what it was like to be inside.

- @murthynikhil

Damon Albarn – Everyday Robots

25 Aug

Everyday Robots is a lovely album. It’s amazing how British that word can be. Damon Albarn is no stranger to the British album. Some of his stuff with Blur, like the unmistakable classic Parklife, is as British as you can get without being the Village Green Preservation Society, but that is the snarky and cynical Brit. This is a more introspective album. This is an album with honesty and with sadness. This is a quiet chat indoors because of the rain.

Everyday Robots is Mr. Albarn’s first solo album. As with Blur, social commentary runs through this album. This time, he speaks of technology and how far it takes us from each other. However, this album is not about society at large as much as the singer. This is by far the most personal album that I have ever heard from Damon Albarn and it makes a nice change.

This is a beautiful, if sometimes a little haunted, trip through his mind. This album does an excellent job of using melodies to reinforce lyrics, both of which hold strong throughout. Standout moments include the downbeat funk of “Lonely Press Play”, the thudding beat of “Photographs (You Are Taking Now)” and the choral effects of “Heavy Seas of Love.” This album does a great job of hitting emotions.

Damon Albarn has to be one of the first people to mind when thinking about auteurs of the past 30 years of music and with Everyday Robots, he remains a powerhouse. However, here he does so intimately. This is a new skin for someone who has been around a while and he wears it well. Everyday Robots is a very good album.

- @murthynikhil

Outside Lands Day One – 8/8/2014

10 Aug

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Outside Lands is the largest music festival of the year for San Francisco. It’s cousin from the South, Coachella, is larger in every way, but it is still a big thing for those who stay in the City by the Bay. Normally I skip these things, but for this one that wasn’t an option. You’ll find out why below.

Run the Jewels

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My Outside Lands experience started with Run The Jewels, the hip-hop duo consisting of Killer Mike and El-P and they started it well. They came out aggressively and ran an intense set. Run The Jewels was one of the best rap albums of the past year and made for a fun live show. Killer Mike also took some time to respect the bay, remembering Mac Dre and calling Too $hort his father figure. They even brought out SF native and hometown hero DJ Qbert who ran the turntables like a champ. This was quite the opening to a day full of music.

Warpaint

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Next on my list was the excellent indie rock quartet Warpaint. Their sounds have the gossamer delicacy of fine silk and intrigue of a murder mystery. Simple to the point of being almost unadorned, their pop has a natural beauty that is incomparable. Unique and wonderful, their show was a delight.

Chromeo/Grouplove

Sadly, the show then hit its low point with Chromeo. They drew quite the crowd and an enthusiastic one at that. Their show however took all their flaws and magnified them. They lost what little charm their albums hold and came off as purely unintelligent and unlikeable in concert. The high point of their show was choosing to leave it.

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I crossed the field just in time to listen to Grouplove cover Beyoncé’s “Drunk In Love”. They couldn’t do it full justice. Beyoncé’s voice is exquisite. Still, they tried and the result was worth the listen. They followed it up with a couple of mediocre songs and a couple of good songs. I’m not going to buy tickets to a full Grouplove concert anytime soon, but I could have done worse than to watch them for half an hour.

Tegan and Sara

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Next on the list were Tegan and Sara. The indie rock duo was more fun than anyone else in the concert. Their songs were upbeat and bouncy and they kept breaking up their set with some quite amusing banter. I was quite sad that I had to leave them early, but I wanted to make sure I found a good place for the next concert.

Kanye West

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I bought tickets to Outside Lands purely to see Kanye West and he did not disappoint. Intense, challenging and of unparalleled quality, this is exactly what I wanted from a Kanye West concert. I just didn’t know how well he would deliver.

He opened with “Black Skinhead” eliciting the expected crowd excitement, and the following hit “Mercy” kept the hype rolling, but it wasn’t until later that we really began to see what this concert could be. In the middle of “Clique” he broke off the song to speak about the hate he gets and how his listeners are his clique. Chanting the chorus took a new intensity immediately after.

His anger in “New Slaves” was nothing short of palpable. One of his oaths in that song physically rocked me back. The crowd naturally knew most of his songs, so he kept cutting them up into pieces and making the crowd go over certain parts multiple times. You could say he was a leader and we were followers.

Kanye West is not the kind of guy to pander during a concert. He did shout out to SF during “The Good Life” instead of the normal second set of cities with the Bay Area line. We must have gone over “Blood On The Leaves” five times because he wanted mosh pits for when the bass drops in that song. “POWER” was abruptly broken because he felt like switching songs. Kanye does what he wants, and that’s why I go see him.

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The later part of the show featured quite a few of his older hits. He started with “All Falls Down” to bring back the memories and then kept going. “Jesus Walks” still holds up as one of his best songs and works very well in a crowd. Also, “Diamonds of Sierra Leone” was quite the throwback. I remember watching that song on TV back when it first came out. “Touch The Sky” and “Stronger” also came out to represent one end with “Bound 2″, “All of the Lights” and “Run This Town” pushing the other. The man has quite the discography.

As always with Kanye though, a large part of his appeal is being able to relate with his sentiments. Often, it seems like he is the only angry person left in music. This time for me it was “Can’t Tell Me Nothing”. It has been quite a while since I last heard it and it was the right song in the right place. Shouting the chorus with the crowd was nothing short of cathartic and “I feel the pressure, under more scrutiny/And what I do, act more stupidly” hit all the right notes.

During an extended singing part of “Runaway”, Kanye stated that his songs are about promoting self-confidence and that being a fan of Kanye was being a fan of yourself. This is the kind of concert that makes you be both.

- @murthynikhil

Broken Bells – After The Disco

8 Aug

Broken Bells, the side-project of the Shins’ James Mercer and Danger Mouse, have come together here to make their second album. After the Disco proves to be a very listenable, if rarely challenging pop album.

This is a consistent and cohesive album, running its themes of the disco beat by way of synth pop and occasionally blues-rock. “Holding On For Life” does a strong Bee Gees impression over a pulp science-fiction
story. “Leave It Alone” provides an interesting diversion into soft-rock and confessionals. However, the album as a whole lacks strong moments. The sum is a little too bland to recommend.

After the Disco ends up being a very gentle album. It has no major offenses, but fails to achieve distinction. This is a pleasant album and I enjoyed listening to it, but I’m not going to regret forgetting it.

- @murthynikhil

Wednesday’s Wolves – The Queen EP

4 Aug

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It’s a buyer’s market for fans of the indie-folk genre. The likes of Of Monster’s and Men, The Tallest Man on Earth, and Mumford and Sons have popularized melodic guitars and absurdly long band names once again, making it a sizeable challenge for newcomers to leave their mark.

Wednesday’s Wolves’ debut EP The Queen EP makes an ambitious and largely successful attempt at such an impact, with a record that ends up being much, much greater than the sum of its sparse musical parts. The ridiculously gorgeous album art doesn’t hurt either!

The brain child of Ysabelle Durant and Chrissy Renker, The Queen EP avoids some of the familiar trappings of the indie folk genre and embraces others wholeheartedly, providing 12 minutes of hauntingly beautiful music that runs through a whole gamut of emotions.

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 Chrissy and Ysabelle staring wistfully at the ground/horizon

 The EP starts off with “The Stranger’s Waltz” – an understated, harmonized musical delight that showcases the duo’s talent for making magic out of almost nothing. Chrissy’s rhythm-guitar-waltz and Ysabelle’s chilling glockenspeil do a great job of enrapturing right from the start, but it’s when their blended voices kick in that they truly seize your soul. Chrissy and Ysabelle each have vocal textures reminiscent of a mix of Joan Baez and Natalie Merchant, and together are able to create some incredible harmonies, particularly in the final verse’s round.

The song is backed by some vivid (albeit somewhat obscurantist) lyrics:

“All the golden coins the callers gave to me
They vanished as the daytime caused the dark to flee
And all the silver starlight that lit up my way
It faded as the sun came up, turned silver into grey”

Reading a lot like an early Neil Gaiman draft (which would make sense, given the American Gods reference hidden in the band’s name), the lyrics paint a romanticized, gloomy picture of a symbolic “morning after.”
Up next is “War Paint.” Despite the aggressive title, the song continues the musical theme of minimalist texturing, albeit this time in a major key. Chrissy’s finger-picked guitar provides a soft but sturdy framework on which to hang her lovely reverb-laden voice. Again, Ysabelle’s glock provides a punctuated descant at all the right places.

The cheerier tones of the song are somewhat betrayed by the darker lyrics: an abstract imagery-laden take on what seems to be broken love.

“War Paint” seems to capture the electric atmosphere of the world after a Thunderstorm, making it a great song to listen to during this monsoon season!

Rounding out this too-short EP is the titular “Queen.”

“Tamer of the savage beasts
And so much braver than I ever could be
You’re queen of all that you survey
And ruler of the youth that stayed in me”

“Queen” continues the upbeat trend of “War Paint” by sticking to finger-picked major key guitar. Not dissimilar to Goldspot’s “Miss Johnson” in its musical approach, “Queen” relies equally on all of Wednesday’s Wolves’ best elements. Ysabelle’s cajon makes its presence felt properly for the first time, providing a scattered barely-there rhythm that fortifies Chrissy’s finger pickin g and allows for a marvelously mellifluous vocal line to drive the song forward. “Queen’s” bridge features Ysabelle finally going to town on her glockenspiel, creating a rhythmically intricate melody that leaves traces of itself in one’s memory long after the song (and EP) is over.

The Queen EP is a wonderful debut effort, and is evidence of a band with a bright future ahead and the ability to stick out in an overcrowded genre. Future efforts could stand to see some more musically complex work to accompany their wonderful vocal textures and moods, but it’s clear that this level of musical craftsmanship is definitely not out of their grasp.

 


The Queen EP is available on Bandcamp for livestreaming and download on a “name-your-price” basis. Physical CDs are also available at the band’s live shows, for those of you lucky enough to live in England.  Check out Wednesday’s Wolves on Facebook for more updates!

Experimental Perverteres: A Conversation with Begum

22 Jul

Photo courtesy Anika Mehta.

New Delhi-based Begum are the most exciting band we’ve heard this year. Two members of the band, Karthik Pillai and Karan Singh, are from the gypsy/cabaret/indie act Peter Cat Recording Company. With Begum, their unmistakable Peter Cat madness is flavored with bassist Kshitij Dhyani’s masterful touch of elegance. It’s a perfect combination.

It’s no wonder, then, that their lead single “Waiting” is such a stunning debut. Karthik syncs his trance-like guitar groove perfectly with his melancholy singing. Karan’s drumming breathes inside delicate spaces as well as it drives segues between different phrases. Kshitij’s basswork is understated and moody, and all the more indispensable for it. The lyrics are poetic enough to feel the song’s melancholy and mysterious enough to add your own imagination to it.


Top Five Records had the chance to have a little chat with this promising young band from the country’s capital. What transpired next was a mad, strangely thought-provoking affair, much like the band itself. Read for yourself:

Top Five Records: Let’s start with the basics. Why Begum? What’s behind the name?

Begum: The name Begum is a tribute to the Queen Preeto, who reigned during the 5th century of Salil Ankola in Noida Sector 18. During her reign, hipsters, indie musicians and other things you can find at dollar stores were given a special place in her court. Her patronage towards Chinese artifacts and other things without a future beyond six months inspired us to come together and produce music with the shelf life of a Durian.

TFR: What pulled you together to form Begum?

Begum: Two smugglers Kshitij and Kartik were caught illegally transporting guitar riffs across the border. During interrogation, they conceded their guilt and were summoned to deliver a bribe in the court of the Begum. While presenting their bounty to the all-knowing Begum, they accidentally hit a set of sacred occult notes. One of the Begum’s guards, Karan, ran to stop them and, before anyone could notice, they were transported to an alternate universe. Now the three men have joined forces to jam until they find the correct set of notes to go back home.

TFR: When did you guys first get into music? What did you grow up listening to?

Begum: We grew up listening to Government propaganda, still our favorite when we need to kick off them blues about our future or where this country is headed. We got into music to prolong this dreamy, blissful, ignorance-fuelled state of oblivion and share the perils with our concerned friends, relatives and parents. Our music comes recommended as the best background score for an intervention by one in four psychologists in Nangloi area of Delhi.

TFR: Tell us a little bit about your single “Waiting”. What’s the story behind it?

Begum: The brain has been flooded by the discharge of the pineal gland cutting off all connections to the body and leaving the brain in complete awareness of its descent into numbness. In the song, the individual is having flashbacks and is viewing himself/herself in second person and third person as he/she slides into death and emerges as free energy, alive and malleable with a certain amount of consciousness. In one word: transcendence.

TFR: Most of your online presence features the image of a lady wading into the ocean. Does the image have any particular symbolism?

Begum: That image was artwork for our single “Waiting” and made sense somehow in context with the song. It has now been changed to the artwork for our new single “Chinbien”, which is being exclusively launched by Wild City. These are Top Secret archival images of rejected ideas for a personality makeover media campaign for one of the top Indian politico-crats, rejected on the grounds of being too nauseatingly humane.

Photo courtesy Begum.

Photo courtesy Begum.

TFR: There’s a certain dreamy melodrama in your music that few other artists in India can attempt, let alone pull off so perfectly. What inspires you to create this very unique style of music?

Begum: It’s a natural state of being, we suppose, the slow motion (as slight as it may be) effect is something we appreciate. But we think this question is best answered by the following quote by former British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, delivered in 1878 while delivering a speech in reference to his liberal rival and famous orator William Ewart Gladstone in the Parliament of the United Kingdom

“You see the whole country of the system is juxtapositioned by the hemoglobin in the atmosphere because you are a sophisticated rhetorician intoxicated by the exuberance of your own verbosity.”

TFR: On a similar note: we think that the music you guys make would be best suited for a particular sort of pensive, elegant atmosphere. What would be your ideal gig venue?

Begum: Parliament of the sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic, republic of Akagarma. A Golden Pillared Opera house along with an orchestra and an immersive and subjectively responsive lighting and visual setup. Globes radiating sound and the warmth of sound pressure levels, tinted audio generators pulsing and rushing through the crowd.

TFR: The video for your new track “Chinbien” features a surreal series of imagery and video clips. How important are visuals to the end product of your music?

Begum: While browsing the Internet to solve the mystery of feline dominance, our video director Samridhi Thapliyal was stuck by a sudden and deeply saddening inquisition. What if aliens are trying to establish communication with us but their mode of communication lies outside of the aural and visual abilities of a common Honey Singh fan? So, to extend a hand of friendship and a proposal for a symbiotic relationship with the dimensions outside of human experience, the music video has been a humble attempt. It is a short catalogue of what aliens should expect to see on a vacation trip to Earth, which Samridhi expects to be picked up by the tourism department of our planet someday.


TFR: If your music had to be slotted between two albums of any language and any genre, which two would it be?

Begum: We would be forced to slot our upcoming album “Begum Bagh” between the available recordings of broadcast from “Phoney Wars” and a spoken word album of all of Alfred Jarry’s work, synchronized to free jazz and Altaf Rajas Alaaps.

TFR: Tell us one artist (Indian or international) that you’d most love to work with.

Begum: Tony Clifton

TFR: When can we expect the Begum album?

Begum: The Begum album will be out by August followed by a tour and one more music video coming up as well somewhere after that. Also we are in the process of composing an Indian Opera, hopefully debuting it sometime next year.

Phantogram – Voices

21 Jul


Voices is exactly what it appears to be, a good indie pop album. There’s a little more R&B and a little more hip-hop here than you would find on, say, the CHVRCHES album, but it still hits all the notes you expect it to and hits them well.

Sarah Barthel’s vocals are excellent throughout and shift the songs around the more static beats behind them beautifully. The beats themselves are easy to fall into. This is a hard album to tire of.

The album suffers from some inconsistency though. Songs like “Black Out Days” and “Howling at the Moon” cannot help but be stand-out tracks, but much of the rest does not bring that same level of intensity. Also, while Sarah Berthel’s vocals are amazing, the couple of times that the other half of Phantogram, Josh Carter, takes the mic are sub-par.

At the end of the day, Voices is an album with plenty of strengths, but ends up a little forgettable.

- @murthynikhil

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