Archive | January, 2019

Monthly Playlist: Jan. 2019

31 Jan

As we finish up the first month of the new year, Top Five Records is proud to start what we hope will become a long-standing tradition: a quick, five-song list of the month’s best songs. We’re just thirty-one days into 2019, but we’ve already enjoyed some great music. So, without further ado, here is the inaugural Monthly Playlist – enjoy!

5. “Sex Rich” – CRYSTAL

CRYSTAL is a Scottish punk / grunge act that has been gaining a solid fanbase over the past few years – and for good reason. The band elicits the best parts of 90s alternative mainstays like Nirvana and Pearl Jam – from vocalist Anna Shields’ gauzy vocals to guitarist Blair Crichton’s jagged, heavy riffs – without sounding like a rip-off tribute act. “Sex Rich” is perhaps the best introduction to CRYSTAL. The slight menace in Shields’ opening lines builds to a grungy wall-of-sound that occasionally breaks for some muddy, hard-hitting riffs. Have a listen, and keep an eye on this band.

File next to: Nirvana; Genres: Grunge, punk

4. “Landslide” – Beirut

If you love cinematic pop, you’ve likely been a fan of Beirut for years. “Postcards from Italy”, the band’s break-out track from their debut album in 2006, showcased the best parts of their sound: a folksy take on world music that somehow elicited images of cobbled European villages or cafés in old-town Ankara. “Landslide”, from the band’s upcoming fifth album Gallipoli, continuous this vibe. Zach Condon’s signature sweeping vocals tether the combination of percussion and staccato organ notes to create a lush, uplifting sound. Gallipoli is out on February 1, 2019.

File next to: Grizzly Bear; Genres: Indie, folk

3. “Pure Water” – Mustard feat. Migos

There’s plenty to love about this new track from Mustard and Migos. A hypnotically uneven beat provides the foundation for taut verses that perfectly exemplify why Migos currently rule the rap scene. All three Migos have a flow so unique that it goes beyond the lyrics as an instrument in itself – a feat so inimitable that it is now known ubiquitously as the Migos flow. On “Pure Water”, Offset, Quavo and Takeoff excel in shooting words with precision between the ebbs and flows of a beat, and Mustard provides them the perfect fodder.

File next to: Future; Genres: Trap rap

2. “Juice” – Lizzo

Since her debut in 2013, Lizzo’s music has been known for her gratuitous mix of soul and funk with the beat elements of mainstream of hip-hop. “Juice” is no different – a fun and exuberant take on the phrase “Why should boys have all the fun?” with some great lines that hinge on Lizzo’s self-confidence (“No, I’m not a snack at all / Look, baby, I’m the whole damn meal”). As a mark of her rising star, Lizzo performed this very song this week on Ellen. If that isn’t a testament to the song’s perfect dance sensibilities, we don’t know what is. Lizzo’s third album Cuz I Love You will be out on April 19, 2019.

File next to: Janelle Monae; Genres: Funk, hip-hop

1. “CHARLIE” – MALFNKTION feat. Shayan Roy

Mumbai-based electro-hip-hop act MALFNKTION is one of the most reliable beatmakers in Indian hip-hop. Older tracks like “Rani” (from 2015’s Hindustani Rascal EP) showcased his ability to merge desi elements such as old-world filmi samples onto an ever-changing landscape of beats. Recently, though, he’s really stepped it up a notch – and Shayan Roy, who you may know as the youthful Bengali lad in many Buzzfeed India videos, deserves much of the credit for it.

On “CHARLIE”, Roy’s fluid, swaggering flow meshes perfectly with the maddening beats – complete with an electronic horn section – that MALFNKTION puts together. With his lyrical dexterity and pop culture references, Roy evokes Childish Gambino, and we hear bits of Iggy Azalea’s melodic braggadocio here too. Simply put, we can’t recommend this track enough.

Bonus: If you liked this one, be sure to check out this duo’s other collaboration, “Vincent Chase Slippin”.

File next to: Childish Gambino, Iggy Azalea; Genres: Hip-hop, electronic

Deerhunter – Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?

29 Jan

Mixing upbeat pop with depressing lyrics is arguably the biggest cliché in the indie music scene. Juxtaposing the two sounds is an easy way for lesser bands to come off as deep while cleverly hiding an inability to craft complex music. Deerhunter are among a small subset of bands that have proven able to rise above the trope. Over the past two decades, the band has created some incredibly layered music that warrants multiple revisits to understand its intricacies and hidden depths.

Deerhunter’s eighth album Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared thankfully continues this trend, with the 10-song LP finding the band at both their most pop-sounding and their most nihilistic, with polished sounds playing off depressingly bleak lyrics.

Take the album’s second track, “No One’s Sleeping”, where the electric clavichord and up-tempo drums hide the depressing childlike lyrics (“No one’s sleeping / great unrest / in the country / there’s much duress”). Frontman Bradford Cox has commented extensively on the influence played by British MP Jo Cox’s assassination at the hand of a right-wing assailant, but you wouldn’t dwell on it until you dig deeper.

Another standout track that repeats this recurring theme of pop-laden nihilism is “What Happens to People?”. There’s this 2-chord piano phrase that sticks in your head, almost distracting you from the song’s underlying message: “What happens to people? / They fade out of view”.

Disappeared is also notably timely and (very subtly) political, abandoning the band’s earlier nostalgia shtick. This is an album replete with visions of a decaying civilisation that call you not to arms, but to introspective attention, such as in “Détournement” or “Futurism”. It’s almost impossible in this day and age to devoid art from politics and the current state of the world, but Deerhunter’s take is somewhat refreshing even if it does require the occasional hiding-of-sharp-objects to process.

Album opener “Death in Midsummer”

Ultimately, Disappeared is probably not going to make too many year-end lists, nor is it going to drastically expand the band’s wagon. Still, it’s a very solid addition to an already stuffed catalogue, and will definitely have you hitting replay (and, quite likely, a nearby pub).

Top Five Jazz Records From 2018 That We Want You To Listen To

28 Jan

5. Ambrose Akinmusire – Origami Harvest

Origami Harvest is an interesting, if inconsistent, album. There’s some really compelling jazz here. “the lingering velocity of the dead’s ambitions” is pleasingly jagged, which is where the album is at its best, but drags a few moments out for too long. The interplay between Kool AD and Ambrose Akinmusire in “blooming bloodfruit in a hoodie” is excellent, but the ad-libs drag the sound down. “miracle and streetfight” has an excellent conversation between the strings and the brass and the space in “Americana / the garden waits for you to match her wilderness” is very strong. The political tinge adds a little depth but needed more development if it were to add another dimension to the album.

Overall, this is an album that rewards a listen and one that stands out for the uniqueness of the pairing, but is nonetheless deficient in fairly significant ways.

4. Moses Boyd – Displaced Diaspora

This album is a fascinating view into London, not the London of Dickens and smog, but that of the many people that have through one means or another found their way there. It’s an album that does more than just talk about London’s history as a global city. Naturally then, it fuses a lot into the base sounds with Afro-bass in a few songs, including the energetic “Frontline” and rap in “Waiting on the Night Bus”, which has a nice traditional jazz feel, but is sadly weighed down a little by that same “City Nocturne” however stays traditional but is elevated by the fantastic vocal work of Zara McFarlane.

It’s an album with undeniable grooves. Moses Boyd’s drumming and production are rightly acclaimed and this album showcases that well. Unfortunately though, the album does still pall on repeated listens. There’s plenty of cleverness in it and the diaspora adds some welcome challenge, but as a whole, it feels a little lacking. Nevertheless, it’s a fascinating and under-explored angle into a city often evoked and a strong musical piece to boot.

3. Esperanza Spalding – 12 Little Spells

This is a highly challenging album rife with atonalities, genre bending and odd meters, but somehow charming despite that and undeniably clever. It’s a gorgeous puzzle box of an album that pushes at you again and again. There’s more than enough here to reward you for the considerable effort that the album asks for and the album makes that effort fun to spend. You should definitely give it a listen and then give it a bunch more so as to fully appreciate what it does.

2. Joey Alexander – Eclipse

It’s hard not to be excited about Joey Alexander. His debut was fantastic and he goes from strength to strength. It’s not just that he is a prodigy, it’s that his skill is prodigious. He has a great flair for the unexpected, which shows up well in “Space” and an ear for the gentle and beautiful as in “Time Remembered” and “Bali.” Additionally, his guest Joshua Redman does fantastic work in his solos in “Fourteen” and “The Very Thought of You” which are then matched wonderfully Joey Alexander’s piano work. It’s even very approachable and his version of “Blackbird” is worth checking out no matter your comfort level with Jazz. My only complaint is that the album as a whole could have used a little more challenge, but the album is so charming and cheerful and refreshing to listen to that the complaint seems almost misdirected. Eclipse is just something that you are glad to have listened to.

1. Ezra Collective – Juan Pablo: The Philosopher

This is an excellent album and another that’s just a pleasure to listen to. It’s underpinned by good, traditional jazz but layers on fascinating world influences from Africa to South America and the Caribbean. “Juan Pablo” in particular benefits from this openness and then again in the drums of “The Philosopher.” These are upbeat songs that energize while still fully engaging the mind. The highlight though is the final song, an unorthodox and wonderful take on “Space Is The Place”, the famous Sun Ra piece. There’s even space in this album for the more drawn out sounds of “People In Trouble.” This is a very, very strong sophomore effort and an album that I cannot recommend highly enough, both for people deep into jazz and for people looking to try some out. You should definitely listen to it.

Pushing the Envelope: An Interview with LIFAFA

23 Jan

LIFAFA is the solo electronic project from Suryakant Sawhney, the lead singer of famed New Delhi indie / jazz outfit Peter Cat Recording Co. While Peter Cat’s music is often a dizzying mishmash of influences ranging from cabaret to psychedelia, LIFAFA is more focused in its palette: desi, electronic, nostalgic, intimate – yet danceable, too.

After a well-received debut EP (In Hi Ko) in 2014, Sawhney released a follow-up EP, Jaago, this month. Our favorite song from the album is the title track. With its harmonium-based intro and Sawhney’s wistful vocals, the listener is immediately pulled back into a Technicolor yesteryear. About halfway through, however, the song melds seamlessly into a dance track that references the same old-timey tones – cinematic swirls, dramatic embellishments – but in a fresh, modern way.

We recently sat down with LIFAFA for a quick chat about the new music, artistic influences, and much more. Read on:

Top Five Records: On Soundcloud, you describe your new track “Jaago” as Bhajan EDM, and honestly we could not put it any other way. How would you describe the LIFAFA sound overall?

LIFAFA: It’s a place where I’d like to imagine I have a completely blank infinitely large canvas to try whatever I like, however niche an idea  and attempt to refine it till its limit before wiping it all clean and starting again on something else. So I guess right now what I’m working on is the sort of Hindi music I wish I heard playing around me. I’ve been driven insane by the fucking awful shit I hear playing outside on radios and giant tower speakers and I hope people steal or buy my music just so some of those speakers are tranquilized.

TFR: Where does Peter Cat end and LIFAFA begin? For example, are there some snippets that you shelve away because they have a more “LIFAFA” sound to them?

LIFAFA: For one, I’ve generally tried to steer those songs which require the precision of dance music production towards LIFAFA. I don’t necessarily separate on the basis of language or quality. But most importantly I’m never in both mind frames simultaneously anyway. It’s a switch I have tried to build slowly which allows me oscillate between a human who thinks and feels in English and one who thinks and feels in Hindi. It takes a bit of time to turn into either person again and everybody must suffer.

TFR: As with Peter Cat, your solo music has a dreamscape kind of feel – it’s often like listening to a lucid dream. How would you describe your creative process? Do you land on the mood of the track first, or is it something else?

LIFAFA: My music all hinges on there being one definite moment where the initial melody, beat or combination struck home. It’s important to remember why you fell in love with a song or were attracted to it and then later down the road, the real test is in trying to recreate that moment in time while upgrading its general production (without losing what give it that soul). I can generally remember the exact moment a song was born. That’s a large reason I made more lo-fi music, because I also felt that, during the process of cleaning it up or re-recording, something vanishes.

TFR: Your music references so many types of art – other genres of music, the Technicolor drama of old Hindi films, and so on. What would you say are your key influences as a musician?

LIFAFA: It’s an ever growing list, starting from my childhood or my memories and tragedies, to neoclassical American music, to jazz, to Vrindavan, to physics, to YouTube, to Jordan Peterson and the Internet. Ultimately in time, I’d like to reference reality and not other art which is just somebody else’s reference to reality. There is no key influence, just the desire to keep re-informing myself and constantly changing.

TFR: You just had your new album launch in early January. Congratulations! Tell us a little about the album. What’s different this time around? What inspired you on this one?

LIFAFA: Well, for one, it’s better produced than my older work. It’s all in Hindi or Hindustani. It’s hard for me to answer this. I think a lot of what I said in the first question is relevant here. I was certainly driven by the idea of attempting to push Indian culture forward, in its own way, and ingest global ideas without become one. Blah, blah, blah. Also, I grew tired of making deeply personal music which I do in English and attempted to find a place where I responded more to my external environment, being Delhi and India, rather than just my own inner psyche.

TFR: Very interesting, thank you. Before we wrap up this interview, we have a few quick-fire questions for you. Here goes!

TFR: What are some album(s) on constant rotation recently?

LIFAFA: Pavilion of Dreams by Harold Budd (can’t get enough). However, I generally listen to tracks and not albums. I’m obsessed with “After the Rain” by John Coltrane these days. “Jamuna Kinare Mora gaon” by Prabha Atre has become a favorite, thanks to a friend.

TFR: What’s your favorite Hindi movie of all time?

LIFAFA: Muqaddar ka Sikander for its music, dialogue and beautiful approach to morality and tragedy. Everything about it is sublime and it never ceases to be accessible, which is the real achievement.

TFR: Drink of choice?

LIFAFA: Bourbon. Bailey’s.

TFR: What’s been your best gig so far?

LIFAFA: So far – at a particular show at the Serralves festival in Portugal, a couple decided to get married while I played “Irradon” and asked me to announce it for them.

TFR: And finally, who would you say is an Indian artist you love? (Not necessarily a musician)

LIFAFA: Amit Dutta, a filmmaker. I only saw fragments of his work and instantly knew he was on a another level. Yet to watch anything by him completely because I keep forgetting to. Some people just frighten me.

You can listen to LIFAFA on Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Apple Music and YouTube. Check out the official website for more information.

Taking a Ride with Ladies Compartment: An Interview

15 Jan
Image by Blankfound Creative

Ladies Compartment is a Mumbai four-piece comprising of Ramya Pothuri (acoustic & vocals), Aarifah Rebello (drums & vocals), Aditi Ramesh (keys & vocals) and Nandita V (bass & vocals).

The band’s sound is a refreshing mix of jazz, soul and blues, with the occasional, intriguing addition of Carnatic classical music. Beyond their sonic palette, the band’s mastery of vocal harmonization really sets them apart. For a taste, have a look at their version of the Beatles’ “Blackbird”. A lone guitar forms a tentpole for the ladies’ four perfectly harmonized vocals in a haunting, stripped-down rendition: a truly unique cover of a timeless classic.

Video by Ladies Compartment via YouTube

If you’re just getting to know the band, let us assure you that these women are not newbies to the scene. Aditi and Ramya are singer-songwriters with a debut EP each; Aarifah, a singer-songwriter in her own right, drums for several other acts, and Nandita is an up-and-coming bassist in the indie music industry. The strength of their individual musical talent creates an easy-going camaraderie that’s highly listenable – and repeatable, too.

We sat down with the ladies earlier this week for a quick chat about their influences, experiences, and plans for the coming year. Read on:

Top Five Records: There’s a great mix of genres in your music – soul, funk, and glimpses of many others, too. What are your key musical influences as a band and as individuals?

Ladies Compartment: Individually, we are four musicians with very different tastes and styles, and we bring our individual influences together to create the sound of Ladies Compartment. If one were to consolidate all of our interests and influences, the list would include Soul, R&B, Funk, Folk, Indian Classical, Jazz, Alternative Rock, Dream Pop, Progressive Rock, Western Classical and Blues music. But these are just influences – we don’t like to label our music because we find this limiting, and one can always go beyond these labels and boundaries when creating music.

TFR: Some of your tunes are well-harmonized ditties while others are much more jazzy and freeform. Give us a little detail into your songwriting process. How do you go about it?

LC: There is no one process we follow. With our earlier songs, Aditi would come up with chords and a rough melody. The band would add instrumentation together, while Ramya and Aditi worked on lyrics and Aarifah and Nandita sealed the piece with smooth transitions and rhythmic patterns. With one of our newer songs, Nandita wrote the lyrics, melody, bassline and backing vocal parts, and the band fleshed it out by adding instruments and modifying the chord structures in certain bits. In our newest song, Aarifah created a rhythmic pattern which the whole band then sat together in one space. Each of us have written our own verse over the same music and you can see how different we are as individuals by the varied ways in which we all have interpreted the music. There is no one process we follow, and we are continuously experimenting with different methods.

TFR: What has been your experience so far as an all-female project in the Indian indie music industry?

LC: We have been well-received and supported by multiple platforms and performance spaces. We have pushed forward by focusing on our music, but the truth remains that people love to overuse and push the ‘all-female’ aspect for branding and this sometimes shifts focus away from the music. We’re trying to move away from this type of branding.

TFR: With the indie scene still being at a somewhat nascent stage, what changes would you like to see for artists to really succeed and cross over into larger audiences?

LC: Monetary returns for artists in the indie scene need to go up. There needs to be more respect for artists, and the careers of artists need to be more sustainable for artists to grow and reach larger audiences. There is an attitude with many venues that if they can get the same act for a lower cost they’ll take the opportunity and pay them less. As a result, many artists are scrambling for survival, and this often stunts their artistic development and ability to reach more people.

TFR: You are hot off a performance at Weekender’s Pune edition this year. How was that experience?

LC: We had a lovely, supportive audience and it was the first time we performed on such a large stage.

TFR: What’s on the radar for Ladies Compartment in 2019?

LC: We are finally going to be recording our original music and releasing it this year. We are also in the process of writing more songs and arranging new covers, so you can expect new material at our live performances this year as well!

TFR: If you had to recommend one or two songs of yours for our first-time listeners, what would they be?

LC: “General Specific” and “Don’t Waste Your Time”.

Ladies Compartment performing “Don’t Waste Your Time” on the talk-show Son of Abish

TFR: Thank you, ladies. Before we wrap up, let’s do a short quick-fire round!

TFR: What would be your dream collaboration (any artist, alive or not)?

LC: Jorja Smith.

TFR: What’s a tune or album that’s been on constant rotation?

LC: “If I Get High” by Nothing But Thieves.

TFR: What’s been your favorite gig so far?

LC: When we were told that our gig at a prominent venue in Bangalore was cancelled upon reaching the venue and we put together a house gig instead, within an hour, with the help of our friends from Bangalore Recording Company and LVNG!

TFR: Who’s an Indian musician / band that you really admire?

LC: Sandunes.

Check out Ladies Compartment’s music on Facebook, Youtube and Soundcloud.

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