Archive | July, 2012

More New Tracks to Impress Your Friends

27 Jul

For those who appreciated our earlier such venture, and for those of you just joining us, we present to you a list of five songs that were on perpetual repeat this week. Here we go.

Constant Conversations, by Passion Pit

In one of the first articles on this site, we talked about Passion Pit’s “I’ll Be Alright”, a frantic pop song that slyly talked about self-loathing. This time, we shall hope to introduce you to “Constant Conversations”, which is quite removed from being a pop song: in fact, it’s an R&B jam.

“Constant Conversations” has measured R&B beats as the foundation (“constant”), layered with lead singer Michael Angelakos’ pained confessions of failure (“conversations”). While this is a pretty common theme on Passion Pit songs, one usually sees Angelakos restraining himself on the gloominess. Here, though, he goes all out.

 

These are the kind of confessions that come out when you’re inebriated, and Angelakos confirms this: “I never wanna hurt you baby, I’m just a mess with a name and the price/ And now I’m drunker then before they told me drinking doesn’t make me nice,” he says, and you know there’s no inhibitions here. While the vintage R&B layering is spectacular – Boyz II Men and Usher have got nothing on Passion Pit – what really steals the show is the heartbreaking chorus. Brilliant way to start your way into Gossamer.

Fineshrine, by Purity Ring

Corin Roddick and Megan James

Purity Ring is an electronic band from Canada, composed of singer Megan James and instrumentalist Corin Roddick. Since April, when their astonishing debut Shrines released, they’ve become famous for dreamy, elegant, clean electro-pop with strange song titles– for example, “Ungirthed”, “Obedear” and “Amenamy”. The song we like best is “Fineshrine”, a graceful synth-pop song with slick beats and a voice like Elizabeth Fraser’s on “Teardrop”.

To describe any further would be to do no justice for the song: James’ peculiar phrasings and porcelain vocals need to be heard to be appreciated. Imagine if MGMT released a song featuring Norah Jones, and you’ll only be halfway to imagining “Fineshrine”.

 
Jumanji, by Azealia Banks

Azealia Banks is a 21-year-old rapper from Harlem, New York. She has a fascination with mermaids, and sounds like the biggest riot since MIA hit the scene. “Jumanji” is a single from her mixtape Fantasea, and featured on the single cover is a children’s-book-like image of Ms. Banks dancing with a very dapper elephant. Frankly, that image says all you need to know about “Jumanji”. The beats on this song sound half like a ferocious jungle and half like an children’s birthday party, but they anyway take a back seat to the mind-boggling flow of Azealia’s rhymes.

Ms. Banks has more swag than Nicki Minaj, better flow than Kanye, and enough braggadocio to rival Jay Z. Her beats include dramatic drums, plinky calypso, and gratuitous amounts of energy. She frequently chant-raps lines like “Real bitch, all day/ Uptown, Broadway” and “I do it ‘cause it’s my duty / Crazy and kinda spooky/ Yo boobie, step up ya coochie,” in a way that very few female rappers can pull off. If you think Nicki Minaj would do well to learn real swag like Lil’ Kim’s, then you’re going to like Azealia Banks.

Listen to it here.

Elephant, by Tame Impala

It’s easy to judge Tame Impala wrongly: to be fairly honest, their name sounds like hipster nonsense. But if ever a reason to not judge a book by its cover (or a band by its name), it is here: because Tame Impala is, in fact, a very good classic rock tribute band.

“Elephant”, the first single from the upcoming Lonerism album of the Perth, Australia band, starts off with heavy, stomping bass-and-drums and a voice that sounds like Mr. Mojo Risin’ himself. Seriously, we DARE you to listen to the first ten seconds of the song without being reminded of the Doors. And like any good stoner/psychedelic rock band, the lyrics are deliciously mystical and obtuse. “I bet he feels like an elephant, shaking his big grey trunk for the hell of it,” goes the opening line, over a beat that feels like, well, an entire line of elephants shaking their big grey trunks for the hell of it. Spiffy.

 

Looking at the YouTube comments section for the video, there seems to be legions of fans trying to classify the song’s sound using the trusted “This is like that one classic rock band, but with a front man from a different band” formula. So far, good ones we’ve read include “Josh Homme fronting the Beatles”, “Syd Barrett fronting Black Sabbath” and “Wolfmother lead singer fronting Deep Purple”, but our contribution would have to be “Jim Morrison fronting Cream”. What do you think?

Wut, by Le1f

 

We’ll cut right to the chase. Here are three reasons to listen to this song immediately:

1. It has the slickest beats you’ll hear all year: a mixture of alarm bells, vuvuzelas and handclaps that will (and I guarantee this) get stuck in your head.

2. Le1f is signed to Greedhead, the record label run by Himanshu Suri, who is one-half of Das Racist, who as we all know are the coolest people on the Internet.

3. Le1f is a ludicrously flamboyant gay black rapper who raps – or rather, brags – about being a ludicrously flamboyant gay black rapper.

“Wut” is the first song from his mixtape Dark York for which Le1f has released a music video, and good God, what a spectacular music video it is. At one point, Le1f grinds on the thigh of a male mannequin who just happens to be wearing a Pikachu mask. Shockingly, you hardly notice all of that, because your jaw is too busy dropping at Le1f’s flow: he spits out seventy (!) words of spectacular swagger in ten seconds (we counted).

Of course, like any self-respecting rap music video, “Wut” has a couple of busty women who are strutting their stuff for you, but it’s pretty ironic here, because Le1f struts his stuff along with them – plus he’s got way better moves than them anyway. Yes, he’s gay (understatement) but it’s amazing how he brags about it, brazenly, the same way 50 Cent brags about his cars and women or Snoop about his weed and women or Kanye about Louis Vuitton and women.  “I’m the kind of jawn closet dudes wanna go steady on,” he boasts, before going on to explain, “I make a neo-Nazi kamikaze want to firebomb.” He’s right.

Agree with our list? Disagree? Let us know in the comments section!

– Neeharika.

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Skrat: Skrat in the Shed

25 Jul

If Chennai can claim any resemblance to an established alt rock scene in the city, a good chunk of that credit has to go to a band like Skrat. They have held out, survived the blizzards of lineup changes, a dearth of good audience and the hazards of taking a break in a very weak environment. They have taken their time to make music which screams in your ears that it’s Skrat, and nothing else: for example, take ‘Black Hammer Man’ or the ever-popular ‘Stay Wild’. Skrat is a band that has been courageous enough to take the time to find its own ‘sound’.

And that’s exactly what the band did, with Skrat in the Shed.

 

Skrat in the Shed is essentially a seventeen-minute, five song video showcase (see above) of Skrat playing five new songs, shot and recorded in front man T. T. Sriram’s ‘garage’, the jam room for many Chennai bands. Their first song “Tin Can Man” starts on a promising note with well-matched vocals and a foot tapping chorus. If that wasn’t enough to catch your attention, then the fast paced “Smoke a Cigar” grips it. The song is well-written and accompanied by catchy riffs, and the change of pace in the middle of the song is just brilliant.

It does look like all songs were performed in one go, with only a few tight seconds for demarcation. After “Smoke a Cigar”, we settle down to a nice and leisurely “Big Bad Bombs”. At just about four minutes long, this track has some soulful vocals and restrained drumming to go with it.

The next song “High” already seems like the next crowd favorite. Its low toned, deep and measured riffs sound like Tony Iommi cured of his lymphoma and back from his Sabbath-ical. On Skrat in the Shed, it is this song that reminds us most about just how much Skrat has striven to evolve and mature, tired of everyone telling them how to play their music. This slow paced song, presented with elegant vocals and good bass, is sure to have your heads rocking slowly in harmony with its title.

Bringing things to a fast paced end, leaving you craving for more is “Shake It Off”. Again, good guitar work does the trick here. Although old timers might question Sriram’s vocalizing of the lead tune, it’s still fun: and still Skrat in its own way. And what more, it worked with the audience which sang along when they performed at Alliance Francaise, Chennai recently.

All in all, Skrat in the Shed is a great album (and a neat video) by Skrat. They look all set to hit the mainstream and play regularly to bigger audiences. You have to be very determined and lucky if you get to make a successful comeback and reinvent yourself in the process. And Skrat looks like they’ve given their all.

– Prasannaa

Marina and the Diamonds: “Oh No!”

22 Jul

This is the perfect pop song. It is not the first perfect pop song that I have come across, it won’t be the perfect pop song in about a week from now, but for now it is and you must know about it.

Start at the beginning and watch the video. Firstly, it is a great music video and secondly it lets us discuss the surface of the song. This is unapologetic pop. The singer is a very pretty girl in her young twenties, which is a good thing, in case you suspect me of more hipster-ness than good sense. You can hear the Lady Gaga and Gwen Stefani influences and there is more upbeat energy in three seconds of this song than I have managed in my entire life. Good, solid, unapologetic pop all the way though.

Now though, go a level deeper and listen to the lyrics. You don’t have to. This is a pretty good pop song even without them and you are free to enjoy the song however you like. However, take a moment and hear what she is actually saying. There are plenty of rip currents of depression running through this pink sea of happy pop. She may be singing that she’s going to fail and she’s going to die with the same smile that she has when singing she’s going to live and she’s going to fly, but you know that she is as earnest about the one as the other.

This is also a pretty intelligent record. The chorus of “I know exactly what I want and who I want to be” speaks layers about who she is and “The nod and a wink of TV told me how to feel, now real life has no appeal” followed by the repeated “No appeal” is easy to empathize with. More than that though, every time you watch the video (and I have watched the video many times indeed, did I mention how pretty she is?) you can validate a completely new interpretation of the song when you pair it with who the singer is. That for me is the borderline that separates intelligent art from the rest, when you can argue the nuances of its meaning.

 

Verdict: This is the perfect pop song. For now, everything should be this song. One week from now, I may be listening to something else, but as of now, this is what all pop should be.

– Nikhil

Top Five Tracks to Make Your Wedding DJ’s Life Easier

19 Jul

Recently, we were pleasantly surprised to hear some happy news about a good friend of ours, which pertains to the topic at hand. Naturally, as soon as we heard the news, we realized the golden opportunity to create this very Top Five List. The songs we’ve chosen here are both insanely catchy and supremely well-known: in short, classics. For each song, we provide you with the excerpts of lyrics that, when put together, make up every good classic love story. We’d like to point out that the order of the songs traverses the whole length of a happy relationship: from the initial fiery courtship to the lasting bliss of marriage. So, right to it then!

Song 1: Light My Fire, by the Doors [1967]

The time to hesitate is through
No time to wallow in the mire
Try now we can only lose
And our love become a funeral pyre

Come on baby, light my fire
Come on baby, light my fire
Try to set the night on fire, yeah

Song 2: You Really Got Me, by the Kinks [1964]

See, don’t ever set me free
I always wanna be by your side
Girl, you really got me now
You got me so I can’t sleep at night

Yeah, you really got me now
You got me so I don’t know what I’m doin’, now
Oh yeah, you really got me now
You got me so I can’t sleep at night

You really got me

Song 3: I’m a Believer, by the Monkees [1966]

I thought love was only true in fairy tales
Meant for someone else but not for me
Love was out to get to me
That’s the way it seems
Disappointment haunted all my dreams

And then I saw her face
Now I’m a believer
Not a trace of doubt in my mind
I’m in love, I’m a believer
I couldn’t leave her if I tried

Song 4: Some Kind of Wonderful, by the Grand Funk Railroad [1974]

I don’t need a whole lot of money
I don’t need a big fine car.
I got everything that a man could want
I got more than I could ask for.
I don’t have to run around
I don’t have to stay out all night.
‘Cause I got me a sweet … a sweet, lovin’ woman,
And she knows just how to treat me right

Song 5: All You Need is Love, by the Beatles [1967]

Love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love.
There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done.
Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung.
Nothing you can say but you can learn how to play the game
It’s easy.

There’s nothing you can make that can’t be made.
No one you can save that can’t be saved.
Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you in time
It’s easy.

 All you need is love, all you need is love,
All you need is love, love, love is all you need.

So there you have it! Pretty neat, eh?

 

Susmit Sen: Depths Of The Ocean

18 Jul

Susmit Sen has been India’s foremost acoustic guitarist for over two decades now. Founder-member of the great Indian band Indian Ocean, the band’s signature sound is built upon Sen’s unique guitar sound: Indian sensibilities, but a purity of scale that reigns supreme. Heavily influenced by Ustad Ali Akbar Khan (sarod) and Nikhil Banerjee (sitar) as well as the great John MacLaughlin in equal measure, he has developed his own unique sound which, albeit not technically pure, is extremely clean. His compositions are in the classical mold, but not in method, where melodic lines are woven around the whirr of open strings.

Over the years, Indian Ocean’s sound has changed. The first album had only instrumentals, which was almost unheard of then in the Indian music industry. As the years have progressed, the band has incorporated vocals and lyrics, folks and roots playing a huge influence, with the numbers generally being more pacey and more mainstream in its attire. And somewhere along that line, the inherent classicism of its first album has been somewhat lost. And this is where Sen’s album comes in. Susmit Sen released his solo debut album Depths of the Ocean earlier this year – an album which has been in the making for the last ten years.

The album kicks off with the track “Rejuvenation” with his bandmate, the great late Asheem Chakravarthy on vocals and tabla. At a little under ten minutes, the track starts off with Susmit building up the mood with some neat jazzy riffs and then Asheem takes over with his tanas – Kumar Gandharva’s influence is crystal clear. As Asheem and Susmit feed off each other in a jugalbandi of sorts, it’s a distinctively early Indian Ocean. And it’s rather sad that this might be the last time one gets to hear Asheem’s soulful voice on record.

Next up is “City Lights” featuring Shubha Mudgal. Much darker in mood, it is unlike anything Rana’s ever done before. The first distinct feature is Shubha Mudgal’s whispered and restrained vocals, which are as majestic as her usually more vigorous style. Though it’s more than 11 minutes long, it’s all good: the sudden mood changes and fillers, accompanied by some beautiful flute and fluent keyboard playing, makes this track the majestic best of the fusion genre. The track ends with some dark but poignantly beautiful note phrasing, and is an absolute classic.

The title track “Depths of the Ocean”, incidentally one of Susmit & Asheem’s earliest compositions, features Parikrama’s Nitin Malik on lead vocals and other vocalists. It harks back to the era of Indian Ocean’s earliest days and its debut album. With some very agreeable vocals, the guitar parts have been woven in very intricately and you can hear traces of quite a few numbers from the debut album in the various jumps and turns the songs take.

“Tribute” is a solo Susmit Sen guitar track and it is easily the most moving piece of this album. It takes one back to the times where to experience music meant sitting alone in a dark room and letting the music seep into the soul, with inner peace as the foremost objective. The beautiful aalap creates a wonderful mood as it segues into the main composition with a beautiful jhala. Again it is a long composition, and again it never gets repetitive. Sen comes up with some beautiful fillers without ever changing scale.

Next is the folksy “Wild Epiphony” featuring the Assamese folk musician Papon on lead vocals. Though Papon is pretty good on the vocals with some powerful delivery and with Rana in full form, it doesn’t quite have the majesty of the earlier collaborations on the album. Following that is the track “Intimacy” featuring Sen’s cousin Sari Roy. It is another beautiful track with some very melodious riffs and fills, and Sari Roy harmonizes along quite beautifully with the strains of Sen’s strings. And it does create some mood – imagine sitting around a moon-lit terrace, a tad intoxicated and listening to a couple of friends singing and playing the guitar. Except, of course, your guitarist won’t be as good as Rana.

The album ends with “Six String Salute”, Sen’s take on our 100-year-old National Anthem. Stripping the anthem somewhat of its patriotic fervour, it brings out its oft-neglected spiritual and tranquil calmness and enhances its melodic classic-ness even more. Susmit Sen truly does this piece full justice.

Depths of the Ocean is an absolutely stunning album. Susmit Sen comes across as a musician at peace with himself and his guitar. It’s the fruit of his arduous twenty plus years with his band, the sounds and sensibilities definitely contributing to the beauty of it. This album makes an emphatic statement: Susmit Sen is still India’s best acoustic guitarist. There’s an ethereal and spiritual connection with his music, that can take its listeners places, and this album crowns Susmit Sen in all its glory: not only as a great guitarist but as a great musician.

Verdict: Indian Oceans fan you might or might not be, just shut yourself in your room and listen to this album. And drown in the Depths of this Ocean of sounds. And peace out!

– Sayid

Best New Tracks: Or, Top Five Tracks to Shock and Awe Your Friends

15 Jul

It’s not difficult to see why indie music is the focus of much ire and scoffing, no matter what the sub-genre. The broadness of the term’s definition itself invites more than an acceptable percentage of ‘artists’ who would have been – and should be – branded as rich suburban kids in less digital ages. Besides, there is a reasonable amount of mutual back-patting between publications and the type of bands that are expected to be liked by such publications – as a result of which there is often true confusion whether that DIIV or Lotus Plaza song you’re listening to is good because it’s good music or because it’s supposed to be good music. Y’know?

But, flimsy rant aside, July already seems to have been quite a decent month for the kind of indie music that can walk the talk, so to speak. Without further ado, Top Five Records presents to you five good new tracks of music. Just to be clear, these songs have melodies, lyrics, stories, even pop sensibilities, so fear not, we’re not pulling a hipster-style fast one on you.

5.Under the Westway, by Blur

Chiming in at number five are Brit legends and musical heroes Blur, with a brand new track that they’ve specially released for the Olympics Closing Ceremony. “Under the Westway” starts off with deconstructed beats, plinky piano and the kind of grand orchestral sweeps that are just perfect to play over slow-motion shots of athletic super-feats. While the subsequent melancholy of the song – both in Damon Albarn’s sad vocals and in the lovelorn-ballad-like piano – make the song seem unsuited for the closing ceremony of man’s greatest sporting event, it takes only a little thought to make sense of the song.

True, the lyrics are a little too sad for the Olympics. But there’s always a little shimmer of optimism that seems to shine through the music on this song. And both of these things put together mean this: “Under the Westway” is a song for both the winners and losers, as it should be. It is only apt that, music-wise, “Under the Westway” vaguely reminds one of “Let It Be”, because it means that Blur has got the elegant-grand-closing thing down pretty damn well.

4.Primadonna, by Marina and the Diamonds

On first listen, Marina and the Diamonds’ new single “Primadonna” seems to be a self-fulfilling prophecy sort of deal, as if Marina hopes to be considered a primadonna simply by singing about being a primadonna. It’s a pretty easy mistake to make – before the song even finishes a verse, Marina sweet-sings about how all she ever wanted was the world, and would you please propose to her right now, baby.

But the genius lies in two brief verses that Marina manages to slip in, that make it clear that this song is not a boastful claim of popularity, but a character sketch. “And I’m sad to the core, core, core/ Everyday is a chore, chore, chore/ When you give I want more more/ I wanna be adored,” sings she, no more a braggart but a storyteller. It is good to note that all of this happens while the synth-happy music allows you to completely block out the lyrics if you wanted to. Plus, she possesses Gwen Stefani’s I’m-genuinely-cooler-than-you twang in her voice. Really, it’s just good pop music.

3. Baby, by MIA

Everyone’s favorite Sri Lankan rebel princess MIA returns with a dark, slick gem called “Baby”, from her upcoming 4th album Matangi. It’s full of everything we love about her. She’s still her sometimes-quirky-sometimes-unruly self. She still has enough swagger to redefine what a pop song is meant to be. She still manages to put together the oddest of sounds and make it work. (Remember the cash register/gun shot combination on the chorus of “Paper Planes”?) “Baby”, like MIA, is polarizing. It has mucky beats, electronica that warns you of aliens, and half-seducing-half-chiding lyrics, so you know straight off whether you like it or hate it. And we happen to really like it.

2. Gun Has No Trigger, by the Dirty Projectors

“Gun Has No Trigger” doesn’t sound like a real song. What we mean is, it sounds like it could be a remix. There’s a guy belting out verse after soulful verse of old-school music, there’s the low hum of old-school female background singers, and then, at odds, there’s some striking, clearly modern drumming. But this isn’t a remix: this is the sound that the Dirty Projectors show off on their new album Swing Lo Magellan. The best thing about “Gun Has No Trigger” is that it sounds exactly like the background music during a Bond movie’s opening credits, and when you pair that fact with the song title, it seems like a stroke of genius.

Sidebar: The video for this song is brilliant.

1. Pyramids, by Frank Ocean

Last year, Frank Ocean was an unknown R&B singer who was, strangely, affiliated with a violent young rap crew (Odd Future). Then, his mixtape Nostalgia Ultra came out and everything changed. Nostalgia Ultra was considered by many – including yours truly – to be the best thing that happened in music last year. So, this week, when Ocean flippantly announced that his first love was a man, went on Jimmy Fallon’s show and released his first album Channel Orange a week early, it propelled him to the biggest thing in music right now. Against this backdrop, it is easy for the public’s expectation of Frank Ocean’s new album to overshoot reality.

Thankfully, Frank Ocean seems to equal if not surpass what he did on that mixtape. The stand-out so far seems to be the ten-minute “Pyramids”. The hazy-slick beats and Ocean’s spectacular set of pipes take centre stage on first listen. But, like any good Frank Ocean song, that’s only the beginning. Slowly, amidst Egyptian-themed metaphors, the story unfolds: “Pyramids” is actually a fully fleshed out story about a whore called Cleopatra that the narrator – her pimp – seems to be enamored by. As if that wasn’t enough, there’s also a great John Mayer guitar solo to close out the song. Listen, now!

Sidebar 1: If you’re wondering what a pyramid has got to do with it, just check out the single cover art.

Sidebar 2: There’s a brief second or two where you think he’s going to segue into KC and the Sunshine Band’s “That’s the Way (I Like It)”. It is a pretty snazzy thing to do.

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

–  Neeharika

John Mayer: Born and Raised

14 Jul

 

Born and Raised is a pretty important album, career-wise, for John Mayer. The last few years haven’t been too kind to him. From gracing the cover of Rolling Stone in 2007 with John Frusciante and Derek Trucks as the new Guitar Gods to an almost-career destroying interview in the same magazine three years later, it’s clear to the public eye that John Mayer the celebrity has taken precedence over John Mayer the musician.

He once had it all: backing Jay-Z one night to jamming with Buddy Guy or B.B. King or Eric Clapton on another; forming a successful blues power band (John Mayer Trio); living it up with the ladies during his acoustic coffeehouse heartthrob phase. But he lost it all, and quite publicly, that too. In a whale of personal trouble, Mayer shut himself off from the world and started working on Born and Raised. And as for the inspiration, Mayer seems to have looked all over California, especially the Laurel Canyon folk scene of the late 60s and early 70s. Quite a few American iconic artists make their presence felt on this album, as do legendary American session men like Chuck Leavell (of The Allman Brothers Band), Jim Keltner and Greg Leisz. And that makes the album very interesting indeed.

As we’ve explained, California is all over the album. Aptly enough, the album kicks off with the beautiful country folk song “Queen of California”, a retro Laurel Canyon folk tribute that should be heard around a bonfire with a hip-flask in hand. As Mayer name-drops both Young’s After the Gold Rush (“Lookin’ for the sound of neon, hun/After The Gold Rush of 1971“) and Joni Mitchell’s Blue  (“Joni want blue, a house by the sea“), the influences of the iconic songs are clear. Built on a vintage Grateful Dead groove and a classic Neil Young acoustic riff, it channels The Allman Brothers Band in its silky hooks and fills. Mayer’s in top form here, with beautiful vocals and soulful harmonies reminiscent of CSNY in all its glory, accompanied by some beautiful pedal steel playing.

 

 

On this album, John talks often of the decisions in his life. “The Age of Worry”, one such song, is a lyrical ode to fortitude. Starting off with some great acoustic picking, it segues into a plush string ornamental gusher, where Mayer’s recent acrimonious past seems to be heavy on his mind. On “Shadow Days”, backed by bristling lead guitar, shimmering piano and pedal steel (in the tone of mellow Southern Rock), Mayer is both confessional and a tad chastened about his past relationships. He admits to living in the vicious cycle of self-delusion with his relationships and paying for it: “It sucks to be honest/And it hurts to be real,” he confesses, going on to insist that, on the brighter side, these experiences have given him self-forgiveness and self-acceptance.

 

 

The title track “Born and Raised” is a vintage Mayer blues track, with the tambourine adding in a Dylan flavor and the sharp pedal steel bringing in a rootsy feel. This track has Mayer talking about the passage of time and age, as well as his parents’ divorce, and features none other than Crosby and Nash (!) guesting on backing vocals. Album closer “Born and Raised (Reprise)” is more Laurel Canyon, with a touch of harmonica and a lot of rootsy cheeriness. The harmonica again makes an appearance on the delightful “Whiskey, Whiskey, Whiskey”, an acoustic ballad about the wonderful combination of sports and booze.

In fact, the album does well to balance the new Californian influences with dashes of vintage Mayer. “Something like Olivia” is a delightful track that features the legendary Jim Keltner on drums. This gentle soulful song, supposedly about House actress Oilvia Wilde, benefits greatly from the church organ and the peppy spunky groove giving it a a Soul flavor. “If I Ever Get Around To Living”, channeling the Grateful Dead in all its jam band glory, has Mayer reminiscing about his pre-fame 17-year old self playing guitar alone in his room alone (“When you gonna wise up boy?” he asks himself).

Speaking of vintage Mayer, his coffehouse avatar especially makes an appearance on the tracks “Love is a Verb” and “A Face to Call Home”. The former, a bit of a slow-dance-love-stoker built on a simple acoustic guitar arrangement and pleasing resonant piano, has Mayer insisting that that love is something you do, not just a word you say. His quirky lyrics (“You can’t get through love, On just a pile of IOU’s“) only make the song better. This one’s a sure-shot inclusion on the present wedding season playlist. The romantic “A Face to Call  Home”, the second last track on the album, is vintage Mayer, and easily more peppier and happier than the rest of the album. The song is capped off by a fully-drawn arrangement which extols the triumph and relief after this rather arduous journey of self-realization and self-awareness.

But the best song on the album is the profound, plaintive “Walt Grace’s Submarine Test, January 1967” , which might even be his best song ever. Here, Mayer spins a tale of a discontent husband/eccentric scientist who undertakes a flight of fancy – across the Pacific – in his homemade underwater machine. The trumpet extends grandness to the song’s dreamy landscape, which is complemented wonderfully by the rolling, almost martial rhythm pattern. But like any truly good song, the rhythm and the melody propel this song forward, accentuating it without intruding on the narrative. More than any other song on the album, this song reminds us that John Mayer the teenage heartthrob is gone; and in his place is a mature and steady songwriter who questions and welcomes life in all its facets and hardships.

John Mayer has definitely matured as a songwriter and as a lyricist. While his understated blues playing is as beautiful as ever, one wishes it had a larger presence. The album has a quite a wonderful range of Californian influences; but at the same time, it has Mayer stamped all over it. Sure, the album will probably alienate his detractors even more, but it will definitely please his fans more than that. Born and Raised may just be his best album yet.

As a special bonus, we’ve made a neat little top five list of our favorite songs on this album, for your easy listening pleasure. Without further ado:

5.  If I Ever Get Around To Living

4.  Something Like Olivia

3.  Shadow Days

2. Queen Of California

1.  Walt Grace’s Submarine Test, January 1967

Verdict: Born and Raised is arguably Mayer’s best and most mature album till date. Mayer fans, go listen! And non-Mayer fans, this would be a good album to convert you.

– Sayid.

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