Archive | June, 2012

Kaav: “Thee”

29 Jun


Kaav, Kerala’s own three-piece instrumental band, makes me truly excited to be a music listener in India today. In an industry where Indian-influenced rock has little real identity, Syam Pai (guitars) Shabeer Ali (bass) and Arun Kumar (drums) manage to stand out. It’s not difficult to imagine the group lying around on Vypin island on a stormy Sunday afternoon, making musical magic against the background of Kerala’s heavenly atmosphere. To witness this magic, look no further than “Thee,” a single from Kaav’s latest aptly named album Raphsody of Rains (produced with the help of Indian legend Baiju Dharmajan and Cochym Records).

“Thee,” means fire in Malayalam, and according to Kaav “represents the inner fire or the inner strength of humans that gets unleashed in different ways.” The song captures the essence of this strength perfectly, and constantly has throwbacks to the images brought up by the album’s title itself. It’s impossible to listen to the initial bars of the song without thinking of the first few smatterings of raindrops on a cloudy, thunder-filled day. The track starts up with a mood-setting clean guitar strum, accompanied by a low, warm, ringing bassnote and syncopated six-beat hat rhythm; slowly, the mood shifts as the music develops into a harder sound. Softly distorted guitars show up, with gorgeously melodic guitar and bass riffs. The song gradually builds up, but chooses to delay its breaking point – instead, we segue into a beautiful spoken-word excerpt from legendary film maker John Abraham’s “Amma Ariyan.” The critical point happens only after this, and remains wonderfully understated.  The song is then gradually brought back down to earth by a lone, squealing, wavering electric guitar note.

The song’s music video is a piece of art in its own right. Excerpts of Abraham’s film are interspersed in black-and-white with muted-colour clips of the band performing, in an artsy move that never crosses the line into pretentiousness.

Verdict: Kaav represent everything that the Indian music scene has to be hopeful about. Their music retains every inch of their Malayalli heritage, incorporates enough western influence to be accessible to a wider audience, and has a universality to it that cements it as a work of art.
Sidebar: Go check out Kaav’s website. It is *beautiful.*

Top 5 Artists from Chennai

28 Jun

Due to a certain chain of events in my early twenties, I was made to spend the first half of this year in (what I assumed was) India’s capital of fervent orthodoxy, Chennai. When people heard of my move, they offered their condolences and (more often) their schadenfreude: but not one of them offered me a heads up about the thriving musical scene here. Now, when you see the words “Chennai” and “music” in the same sentence, it’s natural to expect the word “Carnatic” to pop up soon after. The only phrase I knew that went against this intuition was “Junkyard Groove”. But, as I eventually discovered, Chennai is one of India’s premiere hotbeds for young, alternative talent. Here’s a list of the best alternative indie that the city has to offer.

5. Little Babooshka’s Grind 

Rounding out the end of our countdown are the excellently-named veterans Little Babooshka’s Grind (LBG). They really are pioneers of Indian original rock music, making great electro-rock songs (see: “Doll” on the Blue Butterfly Express EP) way back in 1999 when most other bands on the scene were covering songs that had already been covered a million times. Songs like “Codeine” and “Money” brought sufficient funk to their old-school classic rock sound on first album This Animal is Called the Wallet, while “Basics of Life” is our favorite track off of sophomore album Bad Children.

They’ve been around for almost two decades, but the all-originals band isn’t going away anytime soon. Last November, they released new single “Big Words”, from the upcoming album Wake Up… The Break Up, when they got selected as one of the five bands at the Ray Ban Never Hide Sounds band competition. As an added bonus, here is a rare LBG cover of Foster the People’s “Pumped Up Kicks” at The Great Indian Oktober Fest, Bangalore last year!

4. Harsha Iyer

Next up on our list is a young singer-songwriter from Chennai whose debut made quite the splash last year. Harsha Iyer, at all of 19, released an album on which he wrote, sang, performed, and produced all of the twelve original tracks. Not bad for a kid who in an alternate timeline would be getting ragged by college seniors. Dabbling in a plethora of genres with a self-confidence that most 19-year-olds don’t possess, Harsha took the Indian indie scene by storm with Curious Toys. Tracks like “Overcautious” and “I Find You Boring” celebrate his considerable youth, whereas on songs like “Money” and “Not Dead Yet”, Harsha weaves tales of imaginary characters with surprisingly shrewd songwriting skills. The Chennai musician is now releasing a second album, a twenty-track behemoth, in two separate installments a month apart. His first single “Mystery Woman” is out already, and you should definitely give it a listen.

3. Adam & the Fish-eyed Poets

AATFEP is a real gem of the Chennai scene. The band is the solo singer-songwriter project of a certain Kishore Krishna, who also happens to serve as something of a mentor for younger city musicians like the above-mentioned Harsha Iyer. Both his debut Snakeism (a la the shape-shifting slitheriness of the genres on the album) and his sophmore Dead Loops are spectacular examples of what the country’s indie musicians can do if they push themselves to their boundaries. It really needn’t be said how there are far too many ‘indie’ ‘musicians’ in India who do no such thing. Snakeism in particular is dark, seething, stylish and clearly bursting at the seams with exceptional talent. “Black eyed Monster” and “Little Monkeys” are the shiniest in this gem box of a debut, whereas “Purgatory City” (Chennai?) captivates on Dead Loops. Don’t think too much. Go download both albums and just listen. Don’t be shocked if you are genuinely amazed at the influences and styles and genres that are at play in AATFEP’s work. This, my friend, is music for the cynics.

2. Junkyard Groove

At number 2 is the band that originally put Chennai on the indie map: Junkyard Groove, or JYG as it is fondly known. Ever since their debut way back in 2005, JYG has opened for some of the most famous international acts to perform in the country, and for good reason. Exceptionally refined production values, good songwriting, and truly gifted musicians: there is little that this band lacks. The energetic funk on “Feel Like a Knife” (from their 2009 album 11:11) entrances you seconds into the song, and just wait until you get to the fat bass interlude. “Folk You” and “It’s Ok” are pretty snazzy too. Their latest single “4 to 5 Things” sounds like a rocked-out Irish jig. We really suggest you listen to it.

1. The Shakey Rays

It’s hardly over-stretching the truth to state that there’s nothing in India quite like the Shakey Rays. Tight arrangements meet genuinely good songcraft in perhaps one of the most innovative bands ever to call India their homeland. You can literally listen to any five seconds off their debut, and conclude that it is both shockingly original and unnaturally good. Divine pop tunesmithery and a certain inimitable sense of musical intuition run wild and free on Tunes from the Big Belly, bringing up DMB and the Beatles and RHCP and the Kinks and whoever else with the greatest of skill: i.e., influenced by, but not imitations of. It can be safely said that there are about three or four new bands in India who have mastered this art, and possibly none as well as the Shakey Rays. As their name suggests, this band is truly the sunshine filtering through the smog of the Indian indie scene. Perhaps it is only apt that they hail from the city of year-round sunshine.

It’s impossible to pick favorite tracks on the album, but “I’m Gonna Catch That Train” is a good place to start. It takes a lot of talent to beat Junkyard Groove at their own game, but the Shakey Rays show immense promise. Music fans in Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore and Delhi rejoice, for the Rays are coming to a venue near you in July! Please don’t miss it.

Agree with the top 5? Disagree? Let us know in the comments section! 

Spud in the Box: “54”

27 Jun

“54”, a song from fresh new Bombay band Spud in the Box, is the musical version of a double-take. The song starts off ridiculously upbeat: a sparkly, summery ditty of a man with a fondness for pretty legs and juicy kiwi (albeit mysteriously with a shrink in the picture). By the time the chorus kicks in, still California-sunny, the lyrics veer into hypothetical stalking, seemingly in an obsessive, puppy-love vein of things. Alright. Quirky, but not abnormal.
But pretty soon after that, things veer sharply left of centre. Hypothetical stalking turns into imagined, deranged conversations with Dr. Phil. Then the story pans out to include a mental asylum, a car trunk stuffed with his crush’s boyfriend and – you guessed it – a serial killer’s knife in hand. You have to listen to the final lines of the song to understand what the ’54’ here signifies, although you might guess it. Either way, the contrast of the overt morbidity in the song and the outrageously sunny music (How sunny? It could work as the background for a Go Goa TV ad. Seriously.) is really something to look out for.
Mind you, this entire panorama of morbidity happens as a mere backdrop to the caefree, sunshine music. Imagine Cake singing about serial killers. Or Jason Mraz providing the soundtrack to Silence of the Lambs.
Spud in the Box recently signed on to The Random Dream Project, a brand-new record label (launched May 31st, 2012) that hopes to be a one-stop shop for India’s best indie talent. If all artists are as good as Spud in the Box prove to be on this track, we’re very excited indeed to see that this label puts out.
Verdict: As you can see, we’ve got nothing but good things to say about this track. Listen, listen, listen! We love this folk-rock band.

– Neeharika

Jack White: Blunderbuss

27 Jun



Very few active musicians under the age of 40 today could be called living legends, but Jack White is truly one of them.

Blunderbuss, his fantastic debut solo album, is a rebirth of sorts. It channels his Stripes, Raconteurs and Dead Weather past with some more White mojo, and more than a  touch of vintage White weirdness. In fact, it’s a cleaning out of sorts. Besides, his form’s much better here than his recent studio work, be it with the Strips or the Raconteurs. What’s most exciting is that Bluderbuss could well be the start of a great solo career for this modern-day Guitar Slinger.

The album kicks off with the very warm Missing Pieces, where the narrator’s being treated for a nosebleed by a woman but only wakes up to find his nose and legs hacked off, and the woman departed. Channeling vintage British prog rock tones, against the backdrop of a Rhodes piano, White sings lines like “Sometimes someone controls everything about you“, which pretty much sets the mood for the album. Produced in the backdrop of his divorce to Karen Elson, who also provides backing vocals, this song also packs in some brilliant lead guitar work. The spluttering guitar solo is sonic-perfect and melodious at the same time.  Freedom At 21, an avant-garde freak-out track peppered with peppy, breakfast hip-hop beats, continues with the anti-21st Century woman theme, with Jack White rapping (!) about a punishing femme fatale.

The first single, Love Interruption, invokes White’s gothic Dead Weather days, while second single Sixteen Saltines is the most Stripesque track on the album. A 1970s stoner boogie with heavy, filthy raunchy guitar (very reminiscent of  the White Stripes’s The Hardest Button To Button), this track is tinged with tones of jealousy and an angry falsetto that works.



The rather dark side one of the album is rounded out neatly by the title track, a beautiful piano-driven ballad about wordless love where White explains Blunderbuss as “a romantic bust, a blunder turned explosive“.

There’s a visible change in the mood from side two. The first song Hypocritical Kiss has White admitting his faults from the opening line itself, amidst the backdrop of some great piano waltz. Weep Themselves To Sleep, a staggering piano rocker, backed by some great JW electric guitar riffing, is very post-Ziggy Stardust 1970’s Bowie in its theatrics and inspiration. Interestingly, a bit of the album’s anti-woman sentiment continues on this song – “No one could blow the shows/Or throw the bones that break your nose the way I can,” sings White.

And as we come out of the busted noses part of the album, things are shook up with I’m Shakin’, an R&B cover of Little Willie John’s 1961 song. White absolutely sexes it up here with some great R&B riffs and hooks, making a blaster rocker out of this jook-joint classic. Trash Tongue Talker is White at his tribute-paying best. The piano riffs are reminiscent of his adopted Nashville roots while the vocals are reminiscent of Jagger in jive and 50’s bounce. The Nashville roots show up big-time again on the pedal steel in On and On and On, a psychedelic pop with a haunted piano accompaniment. I Guess I Should Go To Sleep has a jazzy tempo, great vocals, great piano fills and a beautiful violin solo.

While any of these tracks could be stand-alone stand-outs in any album, White has more than that up his sleeve, in the form of the best song on the album: Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy. With a great descending bass line, hopscotching rhythm and melody, White channels Dylan in his artistry and early 70s Kinks in his sound. Its irresistible arrangement is instantly lovable and makes it an instant JW classic, though it’s nothing like he’s ever done before. Also, it must be said that there’s no man out there who could do justice to this track quite like JW can.

The album closer, “Take Me With You When You Go” is an absolute JW cracker, backed by piano, fiddle and distorted electric guitar.  “And I can’t catch a breath or a break/Like a guy who’s strangled and begging,” White whines, only to push himself back on his feet with a hope of love. “Take me with you when you go, girl/Take me anywhere you go/I’ve got nothin’ keeping me, here/Take me with you when you go“. Quite a positive note to end on.

Blunderbuss is a great solo debut album. It has a great range in its influences, but still heavily steeped in the blues. But White doesn’t let the somewhat rigid structure of the blues contain him; instead, he rather uses it to paint a vivacious canvas. Last year, White’s contemporary and probably his only equal Derek Trucks’s Relevator won the Grammy for Best Blues Contemporary Album Of The Year, perhaps signaling the re-entry of the blues back into popular realms. Jack White, with his spectacular Blunderbuss, simply takes it forward. Hats off, Jack!

Verdict: Blunderbuss is easily 2012’s best album till now. Listen!

– Sayid.

Childish Gambino: “Bonfire”

26 Jun

“Childish Gambino, homegirl drop it like the NASDAQ
Move white girls like there’s coke up my asscrack
Move black girls cause, man, fuck it, I’ll do either
I love pussy, I love bitches, dude, I should be runnin’ PETA.”

Childish Gambino (known also as Community star and 30 Rock writer Donald Glover) leaves no room for any doubt about his intentions with “Bonfire,” the first single from his latest album Camp. “Bonfire” is essentially one long unrelenting rant, from start (wailing klaxons, haunting gospel chant and a jarring syncopated drum-machine snare beat), to finish (one word – “bitch”). Along the way, we’re treated to an onslaught of offbeat and off-colour references, masterfully-crafted punnery and sheer unadulterated emotion, with some catchy hooks thrown in for good measure. While this version of Gambino has turned some people off (I’m looking at you, Pitchfork), for your sake I hope that’s not the case. Sit back, listen and enjoy.

The Gambino you’ll hear on this track is the raw unabashed Gambino from his earlier (free) single “Freaks & Geeks”, dialled up to 11. Gambino’s boasts are as frequent and grand as they are hilarious and fierce. You’ll find yourself grinning in appreciation at lyrics like “My dick is like an accent mark, it’s all about the over E’s” and “I made the beat retarded so I’m calling it a slow jam.” Or at least, you will if you manage to keep up with the fast-paced, blink-and-you’ll-miss it speed at which such gems are dropped.

That also applies to the pop-culture references liberally scattered over the track – Gambino seems to have made sweet passionate love to some form of pop-culture goddess (Aubrey Plaza perhaps?) in order to produce this single. Invader Zim? Check. Toe-Jam and Earl? Check. Hidden insult aimed at Drake? Check. Not all of his references work quite as well as they should (there are probably better ways to bring up Human Centipede) but Gambino delivers them all with absolute commitment.

Ironically,the song’s music video is where Gambino falls short. While it is indeed a wonderfully conceptualized and filmed piece of art, the story in the video just doesn’t quite match the lyrics and intention of the song. You’ll see Donald Glover in fine acting form, but not in Gambino persona.

Verdict: Bonfire is a song that needs to be listened to once, then once again after looking up the lyrics, and then once again after looking up all the references you may not have understood. After that, just sit back and take a break. Then go listen to it again. By now, a large chunk of you will have fallen in love with all that Gambino has to offer. For those few who remain (poor, poor Pitchfork), Gambino has some parting remarks:

“Rap’s Step-father: yeah you hate me, but you will respect.”

– Manickam.

Miles Davis: Blue Moods

25 Jun

Blue Moods is a beautiful album. It’s absolutely perfect for after a stressful day, cutting effortlessly through the knot of your tension – not like Alexander with a series of vicious chops, but peacefully. Very, very peacefully. Don’t get me wrong: peaceful as it may be, Blue Moods is not an album that can dismissed as just ‘easy listening’. What’s important to understand here is the fact that while its four tracks are restrained, it doesn’t mean that the songs are shallow or uncomplicated in any way.

Blue Moods is a quintessential cool jazz album by Miles. It’s full of those slow ballads that he liked, and the sound is like fat, iridescent bubbles rising in a smoky room and then popping, one by one. While Miles completely overshadows his supporting cast in this album, both Charles Mingus (bass) and Elvin Jones (drums) do wonderfully in a much more relaxed setting than they were used to. Mingus has a couple of nice solos as well, but these merely serve as breaks from Miles’ playing. This is his album; and despite the greatness of his supporting cast, one really cannot overstate that at all.

The first track “Nature Boy” in particular is wonderfully  slow and relaxed; it’s easily the best song on this album. In fact,  put “Nature Boy” in any album ever, and it alone would be enough justification to pick that album up.  However, the languidness of the song makes the albums’ transition into the more active “Alone Together” rather dissonant. (And it doesn’t help that “Alone Together” is probably the weakest track of the album either.) However, a nice vibraphone does a lot to save it. The two standout compositions, “Nature Boy” and “Easy Living” are weakened by their surrounding of merely good tracks. However, if a couple of tracks set an impossibly high bar, we should not complain that the rest fall short.

Verdict: This is not an album that must be picked up. Really, one would do just fine with “Nature Boy” and nothing more, but these are all rewarding tracks, and if you are looking for some relaxing cool jazz, this is as good a place as any other.

– Nikhil

Beach House: “Myth”

25 Jun

For a few years now, Baltimore duo Beach House have been the sort of indie heavyweights that fight in an arena filled with Arcade Fire, M83 and other darling ambient pop bands. The release of their critically-acclaimed Teen Dream further cemented their position as such: Pitchfork went gaga, then Pitchfork readers went gaga soon after, proving for one and all that this band made good music. (That’s how it works, right?) Point being, Beach House is a very good band, no doubt. Their brand of gauzy dreampop, laced with a peculiarly pretty gloom, lends their music a certain sad beauty that transcends most of their contemporaries. Teen Dream soared and bloomed with the naïve, introspective, perpetually lovelorn intensity of, well, teenaged dreams. The music on Teen Dream was succulent, but more often than not, the lyrics were the kind of self-important first-world problems that gives the hipster world (and first-world countries) a bad name.

“Myth”, the prettiest song from May 2012’s Bloom, is no different. The music is a lush sonic meadow: it’s as climactic, cinematic and charismatic as we’ve come to expect from Beach House. Spectacularly beautiful, haunting and repetitive floods of music lull you into musical contentment as Victoria Legrand beseeches you to help her make it. But make what? It’s unclear. Probably some ambiguously hipster thing, like tragically failed love or intense personal drama, which of course normal people never go through, right?

Verdict: Block out the words and enjoy the music. You won’t wince at the pretentiousness, and you get some insanely sweet music out of it. Win-win!  


Passion Pit: “I’ll Be Alright”

25 Jun

Sufficiently hipster

Apparently, a passion pit is a slang term for drive-in theatres, traditionally known as old-school make-out spots for still-in-school lusty American youth. Massachusetts-based glitchy indie rock/synthpop band Passion Pit is already well known for creating the kind of atmosphere as their band name’s etymology. It’s no different on “I’ll Be Alright”, a full-bodied synthpop track that blips and pounds along much like most of their critically acclaimed Manners.  (On a side note, check out “Sleepyhead” and “To Kingdom Come”; you’ve probably heard their music already though, since most of the songs on Manners were used in some commercial or the other.)

On first listen, the music sounds exactly like an electronic version of Phoenix’s happy-go-lucky, tousled-hair, fashionably-dressed indie rock. The intro dazzles, the chorus swoons, and the bridge is funky like nobody’s business. But what you don’t immediately notice is the intensely dark lyrics, created by a passive-aggressive soul with self-esteem that’s excavating below Rock Bottom. “You should go, if you want to, yeah go if you want to/ I’ll be alright” sings Michael Angelakos, seemingly alright with yet another of his “many messes”. However, even before the verse hits the chorus, he changes his mind: “I won’t let you go unless I’ll be alright,” he croons, the anachronistically upbeat music giving his lyrics a maddened tinge. And so it goes, back and forth, for the entire song. It’s fascinating, really.

“I’ll Be Alright”, released on June 12th, is the second single off of Passion Pit’s upcoming album Gossamer.

Verdict: If you like MGMT (edible magic), Animal Collective (electronic genius) or Foster the People (cleverly-masked melancholy), give this track a listen. And then listen to Manners!

– Neeharika

Hello, world.

22 Jun

Top 5 Records, for anyone who’s seen High Fidelity, is the name of the indie record label that Rob Gordon creates in an effort to bring his life back on track. In essence, spirit and name, this web log of offbeat musical experience aims to follow in those footsteps. 

Stay with us for all things indie: international or Indian. Top 5 Records will provide you with your daily dose of album reviews, song reviews and – of course – lists: top 5 Monday morning tracks, top 5 post-break-up (-pre-rebound) tracks, top 5 hipster-party tracks and anything else you can think of. We hold no bar against genre either.

If you’d like to write for us, please contact 

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