Archive | February, 2014

Naturally Scattered: An Interview with Raxit Tewari

26 Feb

Scatter Nature

Raxit Tewari’s main band Sky Rabbit is something of an Indian indie legend. It started off as a metal band called Medusa that dropped six-track album way back in 2005, before transforming itself into the current electro-pop/indie avatar which won big at the JD Rock Awards this year.

Tewari’s solo side project Your Chin seems to have been born from the same ethos that caused Medusa’s alchemic transformation into Sky Rabbit. It may seem like effortless mood-music, but there is a solid groundwork of talent and aesthetic sense that supports it all.

Tewari describes his second EP, Scatter Nature, as soundtrack music for a solitary walk through a busy city, possibly his hometown of Mumbai. It’s pretty much a perfect summation: Scatter Nature made us think of strangers colliding and interacting like independent particles in this harried world.

“Run Along Now Little One” is the stand-out track on the EP. Tewari’s signature, peculiarly flat vocals describe arcane prophecies (“Laughing gas will burn us while we’re dodging tragedies”) over music that introspects, sighs and flows along with the pace of life. The accompanying video, directed by Misha Ghose and Naman Saraiya, is perhaps the perfect accompaniment. It syncs Raxit’s music with grungy tableaus of Mumbai life – a red telephone, a rusty lock, smoggy skylines – showcasing editor Sourya Sen’s skills as much as the directors’ or the artist’s.

This is not to say that the other three songs on Scatter Nature aren’t worth mentioning. “Fingerprints & Mugshots” is a deal less dreamy than but in a way more wholesome in sound. The phrasing of words and sentences on “Who Would Have Thought” is a character on its own. And the plaintive stretch of the titular words on “For Love”, layered over an electro-pop version of almost-dance music, is just pure magic. It’s also the closest to Sky Rabbit, in our opinion.

All in all, Scatter Nature is a great EP. It got us really excited about what we might hear from Your Chin in the future.

So excited, in fact, that we decided to hear from him now. To round off our review, here’s a short interview with none other than Raxit Tewari himself!

Photo credits: Anuj Prajapati

Photo credits: Anuj Prajapati

Top Five Records: Let’s start with something that we’re quite curious about. Why the chin, of all body parts?

Your Chin: It sucks when it walks out on you. Chewing is almost impossible. You’re left to ingesting with plastic pipes going straight into your esophagus. And that’s just one of the many things. It’s important to acknowledge and address it if you want to prevent all of this.

TFR: Artists often create solo projects to express ideas that might not fit in with other, non-solo acts. How does your musical process with Your Chin differ from how you go about making and publicizing music as a part of Sky Rabbit?

YC: Your Chin’s mostly about sitting in a room and writing/producing music with a computer. I have been tinkering with software for a while now and wanted to see if I could produce some worthwhile music like this.

TFR: Where does your music take inspiration from? Was there a particular artist or even a set of experiences that really guided you here?

YC: A lot of things really. All of them get sewn in. It keeps happening over time.

TFR: You’ve previously described your first EP as the sound of the city, presumably a seethingly busy one like Mumbai, moving along with you. What’s the right frame of mind for this one?

YC: This one’s more of a put-it-on-your-phones-and-go-for-a-walk-EP.

TFR: There’s a lot going on in your music – in terms of technique, texture and style. Tell us a little bit about your working process.

YC: I usually put down smaller ideas on impulse and then build on them at a later stage.

TFR: You recently opened for Gotye at the Oz Fest in Delhi. What was that experience like?

YC: Gotye has a terrific live act. Was an honour to open for someone who is so on top of his game.

TFR: Your style of music is not the most common type out there in India. What has the response been like, in gigs and festivals around the country?

YC: It’s been wonderful. Not underwhelming in anyway. It’s been very consistently progressive over the last few years.

TFR: We loved the music video for “Run Along Little One”, especially the beautiful, grungy montage of urban life. Tell us a little bit about the creative process that went into making this video.

YC: Thank you! Glad you loved it. We went out for a day and shot a whole lot of this place not far from home. Literally rediscovered it in so many ways. Found new nooks and corners. It was extremely impulsive and a lot of fun.

TFR: The last question we have for you is a pretty standard one. Who is the one artist, alive or dead, that you’d most like to work with?

YC: Brian Eno?

So there you have it. Listen to Scatter Nature below!

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Agam at Hard Rock Cafe, Hyderabad (20/2/2014)

23 Feb

Harish Sivaramakrishnan

The Indian rock scene has, over the years, engendered numerous artists and acts – many of which have given us reason to feel proud of the music that our country produces today. From the pioneering works of Moheener Ghoraguli in the 1970s to the near-virtuosos like Baiju Dharmajan and Warren Mendonsa, Indian rock has indeed walked a long and meandering path. More importantly, they have established and re-established the fact that our musicians have often been able to step outside the mundane mediocrity of Bollywood and make refreshing music, by drawing heavily from Western rock while remaining faithful to their Indian roots.

Agam hail from Bangalore, and they call themselves a Carnatic-progressive rock band. Their music is thus a heady mix of Carnatic classical, set against an ambitious backdrop of technically challenging rock; this is not surprising, as they cite Indian Ocean, Dream Theater and Rush as their primary influences. The genesis of Agam goes back to the music club of BITS Pilani when vocalist Harish Sivaramakrishnan and drummer Ganesh Ram Nagarajan started jamming casually. They continued their shared passion after college and, after officially forming Agam, their first big breakthrough came when A R Rahman himself adjudged them winners of a band talent hunt on a Tamil TV channel. Since then, they’ve performed in gigs all over the country and have released a studio album in 2012. They have even featured in MTV’s prestigious Coke Studio in the same year.

Their recent gig at Hard Rock Cafe, Hyderabad was a wonderful demonstration of their talent – which they manage to nurture, in spite of all of them being full-time IT professionals today.

The first thing that hits you when you hear them live is the raw classical roots that Harish’s aalaps stem from. His voice reaches soaring crests and peaks, all the while remaining unflinchingly musical and melodic, reminding one that classical vocals continue to be the mainstay of any fusion band today.

But let that not downplay the inherent talents of the other members. T. Praveen Kumar’s guitar work and Ganesh’s pounding drums were also top notch, and while the keyboardist never did come into the limelight (much to my disappointment, as the keyboard forms a cornerstone of prog music, more so than the guitar), he kept the strings and the chords flowing just fine, making the overall experience wholly enjoyable. And the bassist – who was temporarily replacing their usual bassist, who couldn’t be present for the gig – did some splendid slapping on a five-string bass.

Agam

Agam performed a number of original compositions from their album The Inner Self Awakens. And much to the delight of the fans, they threw in a couple of A R Rahman covers as well – from Dil Se and Tu Hi Re. The covers were so beautifully rendered that even the most devout of Rahman or Hariharan fans would have appreciated them wholeheartedly. After nearly two long hours of beautiful music, when the show was reaching its unfortunate end, they succumbed to popular pressure and did an encore of two of their more popular songs, “Dhanashree Thillana” and “The Boat Song”, both of which were met with wild cheers from the crowd.

Most of their songs, I observed, demonstrated a high level of technical proficiency – be it with the guitar solos or the drums – and the evening reached its instrumental climax when Ganesh executed a wonderful Peart-inspired drum solo that left the entire HRC reeling. It was an absolute delight watching him wield those sticks with such dexterity; he exhibited infectious levels of enthusiasm coupled with such consummate ease that it was difficult to not admire his style of play. I also observed (given the rabid Rush fan that I am) their music is extremely inspired by Rush. A particular example is the beginning chord/drum progression in “Swans of Saraswati”, which seemed like a tribute to Rush’s iconic “YYZ”. (For the ones who are unaware, the introduction to “YYZ”, played in a time signature of 5/4, repeatedly renders “Y-Y-Z” in Morse Code using various musical arrangements, and it is one of Rush’s best known instrumental pieces.)

After the gig ended, my friend and I rushed over to meet Ganesh and Harish, and we chatted about an Alma Mater that we all shared. All in all, I enjoyed Agam thoroughly. I have heard their studio album a number of times, and while I wouldn’t blame the album per se, I must say, I liked them live far better. To the extent that, if you asked me whether I would go for another Agam gig any time soon, I would say yes. Without a second thought.

– Subhayan Mukerjee (@wrahool)

Top Five Songs to Include on a Mixtape For Your Indie Beloved

14 Feb

Trying to think of a way to introduce a Valentine’s Day-themed list article while avoiding all the common tropes (pro-Valentines, anti-Valentines, pro-anti-Valentines, etc.) is becoming harder and harder; there’s very little middle ground to walk between flower-burning and chocolate-gorging.

To try and skip over the debate, this T5R article instead provides five non-conventional songs that you ought to use when making that time-tested classic gift: the mixed-tape.

More specifically, here are 5 songs that absolutely have to go into your next mixed-tape for your present and/or future beloved; this way, you won’t have to reuse “With or Without You” for the 900th time.
 
 

5. “Absolutely Cuckoo” by The Magnetic Fields

Magnetic-fields-in-concert

The Magnetic Fields’ three-volume concept album 69 Love Songs contains exactly that: 69 love songs. Despite the fact that the album is about love songs, and not love itself, “Absolutely Cuckoo” definitely works as an unconventional inclusion on any romantic mix tape. Stephen Merritt manages to condense all the neuroticism of an early relationship into barely a minute-and-a-half, by imploring her not to fall in love with him just yet (since he might be cuckoo). In the process he admits to falling in love all the same, and also builds up the most fantastically in-depth worst case scenario of what would happen if things went south. The song’s beauty lies in the fact that we’ve all done this. We’ve all caused our what-ifs to pile up until all we can do is wallow in neuroticism. “Absolutely Cuckoo” takes this tendency and turns it around to create a song that’s so warm, well-crafted and mildly humorous that it effectively reveals the emperor’s nudity, while also providing an absolutely endearing song with which to bring you and your steady closer together.


 

4. “Stealing the Moonlight” by Gold Motel

GoldMotel-01-big

Gold Motel’s upbeat jangle-pop infused “Stealing the Moonlight” from their debut album Summer House perfectly articulates the emotions of the early days of a recently- re-enamored social introvert’s relationship. Greta Morgan’s aloof, unencumbered vocals combine with a bouncy set of guitars, bass and drums (provided by Chicago colleagues Eric Hehr, Dan Duszynski, Matt Minx and Adam Coldhouse)  to capture the warmth and fuzziness of early love. The wide-eyed innocence that “Stealing the Moonlight” conveys is instantly relatable (in a way which reminds me of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” by the Beatles) and works well on any mix.


 

3. “Hotel Yorba” by The White Stripes

WS_2007photo_3

If you can ignore the mild creepiness of Jack and Meg White’s relationship at the time, as well as the slightly off-centre music video, The White Stripe’s “Hotel Yorba” works as a pretty great love song. Against the backdrop of foot-stomping upbeat country and garage rock, Jack White allows himself time to ruminate about an almost whimsical life in the backwoods with his missus. It’s an easy song to get carried away by: the infectious optimism about the future that the song radiates is bound to transmit itself into your inamorato/inamorata, and that can never be a bad thing. Plus, brownie points for being used in the extended pilot of Arrested Development.


 

2. “Ghosts” by Laura Marling

Laura_Marling_3

“Ghosts” takes a rather different approach to the aspects of a new relationship, by looking at that two-tonne tether to the past, i.e. exes. Laura Marling channels the 90s café singer-songwriter in her to produce an acoustic-driven ballad that absolutely has to be shared with your main squeeze. It’s nearly impossible to enter a new relationship without carrying the emotional baggage of the past (as practically 90% of all sitcoms can testify) , and Laura gets that. “Ghosts” conveys the inner turmoil of a man as he approaches his new lover, at once admitting both his haunting by his past and her role in helping with the exorcism. This is a relationship in all its reality – not in isolation, and not under any pretension, but still hopeful.


 

1. “Northern Sky” by Nick Drake

Nick_Drake_(1971)

“I never felt magic crazy as this

I never saw moons knew the meaning of the sea”

Everything about Nick Drake’s world in “Northern Sky” is magical, ethereal, and beautiful. Nick’s easy-going baritone melds with piano, guitar, keyboards and bells as he invites his lover into his world through the simple gesture of telling her exactly how he feels about her.

Nick Drake’s poetry, combined with the gorgeous musical backing, makes “Northern Sky” a timeless work of art. Including it in a mix is a no-brainer.


 
 

Happy Friday and/or Valentine’s Day, from the T5R Team!

– Karthik M. (with a little inspiration from Pune).

Top Five Stunning Rock Covers to Shock and Awe

10 Feb

This is an extremely ambitious list. Not only does it try to select five out of all the good, the bad and ugly of rock covers that exist in the world, but it also tries to include a seemingly wide genre of musicians. As a result, you’ll find everything on this list: from an alternative metal band to a Spanish soprano singer, from an alt-rock super-group to a humble Indian indie band, and from a British metal icon to a classical pop pianist, all trying their level best to recreate some of the finest songs from rock music’s tumultuous past. Hope you enjoy it.

5. Tool covers Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter”

Led Zeppelin

No Quarter” is one of those vintage rock songs that reek of Led Zeppelin from the moment they get underway. Yes, it is bereft of any of Jimmy Page’s textbook guitar solos, and yes, it’s not the first song that comes to your mind when you think of Robert Plant either. Yet, it always comes off as a masterpiece that just couldn’t have been the work of any other band – until nearly three decades later, that is.

Tool, who lay stake to being one of the finest experimental metal bands of today, decided to cover this Led Zep classic in their 2000 album, Salival – and while doing so, they also decided to add a dash of their own progressive flavor to it.

The result is, needless to say, absolutely stunning – though, if you’re a first timer, it could take a bit of getting used to. The cover is over eleven minutes long, over four minutes longer than the original. The vocals, courtesy Maynard James Keenan, are often modulated, which may raise some conventional eyebrows.

But leaving that aside, the music is staggering. The song is dark; there’s an element of dread that runs under the thick layers of drums and heavy distortion guitar. And then there is the usual Tool innovation that rears its head now and then, be it with their rendition of the trippy riffs in the beginning or the bass and guitar arpeggios that replace the original piano.

In the end, the cover completely deviates from the original thanks to a brilliantly improvised climax full of powerful riffs, alternate lyrics, heavy bass and a thundering drum sequence that we only wish had continued for a little more.

With this cover, Tool have not only taken a page from Led Zep’s iconic yesteryears, but have also planted it amid the dreary annals of progressive metal in their own unique manner.

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4. Tori Amos covers Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”

Tori Amos

To begin, let us first agree upon some things that countless others have agreed upon before. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is the song of the early 90s, and Nevermind was probably the greatest thing to come out of Seattle since Jimi Hendrix. With these established, let us now look at Tori Amos’ cover of this cult classic.

If you were expecting a faithful rendition, one that begins with the instantly recognizable riff that grunge fans have head-banged to over the past few decades, you probably haven’t heard Tori Amos. Because in essence, Tori Amos is far – really really far – from the genre of music that Kurt Cobain pioneered. She’s a classical pianist, and she’s much older than what Kurt Cobain would have been had he been alive today. Her approach to the song is thus starkly different, and the only way you can appreciate this cover is with an open mind.

For starters, the cover is completely piano-based, and is therefore much, much slower and softer than the loud and angst-ridden original. Which means, if you’re looking for Cobain’s guitar solo, you won’t find it here. What you will find instead is a beautiful voice and some sublime, almost dreamy, piano. This is definitely not what Nirvana had in mind when they recorded this song, but the point is, it’s not meant to be what Nirvana produced either. The two versions have nothing in common except for the lyrics and the skeleton tune; trying to compare the two would be a bit like comparing pizza with cheesecake because both have cheese in them. Yes, it is the cheese that makes both of them so good, but it’s really mindless to try and choose one over the other, isn’t it?

My advice would be to listen to the cover and try to appreciate what Tori has attempted to do.

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3. A Perfect Circle covers John Lennon’s “Imagine”

John Lennon

The original “Imagine” is a very happy song that tries to propagate happy ideas – of unity, peace and humanism. Attempting to make a dark, almost depressing cover of such a happy song does seem like a cruel thing to do – a bit like punching a rabbit in the face, and then trying to feel good about it. But the progressive-alt rock super-group A Perfect Circle had done exactly that in their 2004 album eMOTIVe. And the worst (or best?) bit is this: it is rather good.

The dark undercurrents are noticeable the moment you hear all the minor notes in the otherwise familiar piano arpeggio. John Lennon played the majors, while here, they just don’t. If anyone ever dissed about cover artists, saying that they fail to step outside the original, and that they fail to find a fresh perspective to music, he or she has probably never heard A Perfect Circle. This cover hasn’t just added a unique perspective to Lennon’s classic: it has bordered on the visionary.

The vocals (it’s the same Maynard James Keenan from Tool) continue the same sense of foreboding that the piano began. The droning rhythms of the drums and the synths supplement the vocals to create an atmosphere that sounds and feels sinister, almost ominous.

As a cover therefore, this is top class stuff. It’s quite unlike any other cover that you’ve heard. However, it doesn’t feel complete.

What seems to be lacking is lead guitars, which would have provided the final cut necessary to take this cover to the very top of this list. Apart from that, this is a must-listen – and unfortunately for all the happy rabbit fans, a must-admire.

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2. Montserrat Caballé and Bruce Dickinson cover Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”

Montserrat Caballe and Freddy Mercury

If there’s one word for attempting to cover “Bohemian Rhapsody”, it’s ‘ambitious’, and if there’s something that such ambition can lead to it, it’s generally a disaster. But when you have a Spanish operatic soprano – who’s shared the stage with Freddie Mercury in her career – embarking on such an attempt with the undisputed champion of British heavy metal, it’s difficult to not give them a chance.

The cover is eerily faithful to the original and has all the iconic elements that make the song the classic that it is. The beginning chorus has vocals in different harmonies, followed by Montserrat’s soulful voice that sends a silent shudder down your spine. Iron Maiden fans will absolutely love how Bruce Dickinson’s soaring vocals sink in to take this role. His voice reaches every high note that makes the original so remarkable, and the execution is just so perfect that it would have brought a tear to the eye of old Freddie.

As Montserrat and Bruce alternate with the lyrics, a majestic orchestra gives them accompaniment. What this means is that you won’t find Brian May’s lead guitar when you will expect it; instead you’ll find a wave of symphonic strings, peppered with the occasional piano almost throughout the length of the song. However, you can rest assured that the melodies in the cover are almost as much a treat for your ears as Queen’s original was.

Go give it a listen, and be mesmerized.

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1. Thermal and a Quarter cover The Beatles’ “Hey Jude”

The Beatles

So far in this list we’ve discussed a wide range of covers: a darker cover of an already dark song (“No Quarter”), a seemingly antithetical cover of a loud, angry song (“Smells Like Teen Spirit”), a sad, dispiriting cover of a joyous song (“Imagine”) and an unerring cover of a particularly difficult song (“Bohemian Rhapsody”). To add to this diversity, we’ll now look at a fun cover of one of the most popular songs in rock history.

Thermal and a Quarter have been creating ripples in the Indian indie-music scene for quite a few years now. They are immensely talented and incredibly technical in their compositions, and their cover of the eye-wateringly popular Beatles classic “Hey Jude” comes as a breath of fresh air for all indie music lovers.

From the very first note, this cover stands out. It instantly catches your attention with its strange and syncopated style of play. What follows is absolute genius. The concept is terrific – a funk-blues cover of The Beatles – and the execution is spot on. Bruce Lee Mani’s vocals do complete justice to this bold attempt, as do the clever flute fillers, the pounding drums and the driving bass.

This is just masterclass stuff and thus tops this list. By far.

@wrahool

The National: Trouble Will Find Me

3 Feb

You always know what you are going to get with a National album. As ever, Trouble Will Find Me is a technically skilled yet highly accessible alternative rock album. They remain evocative and emotional. They maintain their darkness and their humor. They are still very personal. The only issue is that their sound has also stayed constant.

It often feels that every single song by The National is the same. This is blatantly untrue, even when brought down to the scale of just this album. “Don’t Swallow The Cap”, for instance, pushes you forward with its plays while songs like “Fireproof” lounge in their melancholy. Also, quality shifts. The two aforementioned songs are excellent, while songs like “Sea of Love” and “Slipped” are fine, but instantly forgettable.

This is an album to listen to while staring out at a gray sky. Occasionally, phrases or tunes will reach your mind and draw a smile. They are after all a clever band. Lines like “I am secretly in love with everyone I grew up with” from “Demons” are too human not to relate to. However, like the rain outside, the album is too familiar and too uniform to ever interrupt your inner dialogue, and an album needs to do more to impress.

@murthynikhil

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