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Second Sight – The Violet Hour Tour

24 Nov

I’ve always been apprehensive of house gigs. My earliest memories of living room shows in high school have been of parents and relatives mixed in with friends, and a whole lot of “wait hang on let me start over”s. Until recently I hadn’t exactly been convinced by the most recent wave of professional house gigs put on by Indian bands looking to find an escape from the festival and pub circuits. I understand the motivation (pubs are exploitative and no one likes playing over the dinner rush, festivals are exploitative and no one wants a Saturday 3PM slot), but it seemed like more of a fad trying to stem the stagnation in the non-electronic Indie circuit. My opinions have radically changed in the past 48 hours, however, thanks to Second Sight’s The Violet Hour Tour, organised by LVNG.

Anusha Ramasubramoney and Pushkar Srivatsal are a Civil Wars-inspired duo that have put together a 45 minute acoustic set that makes the house gig concept work on a level I’ve not seen before. It’s magical, it’s captivating, and (based on my experience at their tour’s first leg in Delhi) definitely worth your time. The show was organised by LVNG, an indie-r version of Sofar Sounds. They’re young and hungry (their Delhi gig was their 43rd overall and 6th in the city), but that only works in their favour. The lack of distance between the organisation and the audience/performers made the whole process that much more authentic and less corporatised, and the limited resources they used to set up the space arguably upped their creativity. The first 15 minutes of the evening weren’t exactly convincing, of course. The Vasant Kunj apartment that served as the makeshift venue was nice enough, but the combination of me being late, sober, and a complete stranger to the mostly friends-and-family crowd meant a lot of awkward standing around and trying to think of interesting answers to the question “so how did you end up here?” Then the music started, and everything fell into place.

Andrew Sabu, the founder of LVNG, served as the singer-songwriter opening act. He’s a more-than-competent singer, with a strong voice that was underserved by his constant self-deprecating commentary on his music. I’m a fan of less-is-more guitarists, but that sort of performance requires you to really lean into and accept it for what it is, which didn’t happen. There are enough elements that hint at greatness, though, so here’s hoping that his eventual musical output matches the promise I could see. As an opening act though, it was pretty much spot on: enough to whet our appetites and set the mood for the music to come.

A short break later, and Second Sight took to the “stage” (read: two stools, a guitar and some mic stands). And then the magic happened. Second Sight normally play with drums and a bass but their absence in this gig only strengthened their performance. Melodies and rhythms were instead provided throughout the night by guitar (played by both Pushkar and Anusha alternately) and finger clicking (provided by the audience), with additional support on occasion by electric guitar stand-in Vignesh. This stripped down set-up meant that their best assets (harmonies, strong songcraft, and live performing energy) could be displayed to full effect.

Take their first song of the night, “Little Plastic Raincoats.” I first heard the song as part of Patio Unplugged’s video series, but this stripped down version worked so much better in the DIY aesthetic of the living room gig. You couldn’t help but be drawn into the story Anusha and Pushkar were trying to tell.

“Blood,” the first song they played from the Violet Hour EP (and incidentally my favourite from the list) is an even better example. The EP version is haunting enough, but taking away the strings and ambient sounds really helped to highlight the fact that the duo have substance to back the style they’re pushing. They keep talking about their Civil Wars influences, but I could (consciously or unconsciously) detect some hints of Beirut and Kings of Convenience creeping in too.

Strong writing and music is just one part of a good live performance, though; thankfully, Anusha seems to be a master at the second part, i.e. audience engagement. They owned that audience, letting us peek behind the curtain with anecdotes about the songwriting process and their influences, and infusing us with an energy that you don’t often see in live gigs. I’m still humming the little back-and-forth they had us singing for their last song, the bolero-style “La Hermoza Tristeza” (I’ll let you Google the double- entendre).

One of the best aspects of the night, ironically, were the little flubs and mistakes and sound issues that crept in. A perfectly orchestrated live show is fine enough, but often the best moments come when something goes wrong and performers have to adapt. The same held true here: every little hiccup served to highlight just how amazing it was to be so close to a performance. At one point Vignesh’s switchboard shorted, but you could still hear the twangs from his electric guitar at the back of the room. That was the moment that sold me entirely on this whole format.

It’s always gratifying to get in on the ground floor of something that you just know is going to explode and that’s what I felt at the end of the night.

Second Sight have two more nights left in their tour (one in Pune and one in Bombay), so go see them if you can still score tickets. Also buy their CD, which has some beautiful artwork, inserts, and stickers: I’m a sucker for bands that go that little extra mile with stuff like these.

– Karthik


Yves Tumor – Safe In The Hands of Love

22 Nov

Safe In The Hands of Love is the most interesting album of 2018. It’s boldly experimental and absolutely undefinable. There are parts that could be a standard R&B track and parts that are straight rap, but then there are parts that are electronic and parts that are dream pop and a lot that is just noise and the whole set bounce off each other as though Brownian.

It actually reminds me a lot of some of the newer rap coming out. It shares something of the same 90s alt-rock roots and a song like “Noid” with its story about mistrusting 911 could have conceivably fit in any of those albums. In other places though, there’s music far too experimental for even that fringe. The distortion to break up the otherwise smooth “Licking An Orchid” is excellent, but then the unexpected bass lick is as well and the whole thing plays well against the love story too.

It is an album of tremendous variety. The opening of “Lifetime” is clear dream pop and even when the vocals shift it into something harder, the production stays dreamy. The closer “Let The Lioness In You Flow Freely” however is industrial and punishing and yet still works.

There are points that don’t do as well though. While “Economy of Freedom” is an interesting sound and compelling listen, the pace of ideas is a little too slow. These stretches of slowness show up much more often than would be ideal and are the one real complaint to be had with the album.

It is an excellent album however and well worth the time and effort it asks for. There’s a lot here to reward you for them.


Miles Davis & John Coltrane – The Final Tour: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 6

26 Oct

This tour came at a pivotal time for both the people named above and jazz as a whole. Miles’ magnum opus Kind of Blue was still fresh, but Coltrane had also just released his blueprint for the future, Giant Steps. Trane was already bucking to leave the first great Miles Davis quintet and further explore the new strain of jazz that he pioneered. Soon, Miles would also reinvent himself to fully incorporate this new sound, but this tour found him still firmly in the thinking of Kind of Blue and the tension between the two artists makes for a fascinating listen.

Coltrane is clearly just not in the same headspace as the rest of the quintet and his solos are fiery and bursting with ideas. You can see the early sheets of sound that would later be his calling card. His pace of new ideas is inhumanly fast and yet somehow still seems slower than he would have liked. He was accelerating into the future and it just could not come quickly enough for him.

Miles on the other hand was still in the present. His solos were much more traditional. They seem to be exactly of the style that Coltrane was trying to upend. That in no way diminishes their brilliance though. He runs a slower, purer sound than Trane, and hits the most unexpected notes and pulls them out wonderfully.

On top of that, the rest of the quintet does really great work. It wasn’t a great quintet just because of Miles Davis and John Coltrane, the whole group was amazingly talented. In particular, I really like the piano solos in Copenhagen. They’re nice and understated and yet so clever.

Seeing the contrast between Trane and the rest of the quintet is fascinating in itself. It’s almost fusion in how the two forms of jazz but highly individualistic in sound and approach.

This album would be worth the listen just for its historical value as a transitional piece, but it is also just excellent jazz from an all-time great group of musicians at the height of their powers.


Logic – YSIV

20 Oct

This is Logic dialing himself up. It’s Logic being even more Logical than he was before. This works for him on a technical level. He has undeniable ability as a rapper, even if I find him a little unmemorable.

However, it’s also got his pretentiousness, his sophomoric philosophizing and his constant self-anointment. He’s far too self-indulgent and far too quick to give himself accolades that he has yet to justify.

More than anything though, I hate how deeply it references other rap because it does nothing more with those references than consider itself clever for making them. It’s the Ready Player One of rap. I’m sure that I didn’t get all of them, but I got more than enough to feel very, very tired.

It’s just so pointless as an album. It has almost nothing of value to say. It’s interesting to me that rap has gotten to the point where an album like this can exist, but that fact doesn’t make the album itself more interesting. It’s just not really worth your time.


Lil Wayne – Tha Carter V

19 Oct

The return of Lil Wayne! For a few years there, Weezy was just the best rapper alive and no one was close. It’s hard to think of someone else quite as dominant during his prime. It’s been a long time since that prime though and a long time since we’ve heard really good music from him. It’s hard not to be excited about the end of the drought.

It starts strong with “Don’t Cry” which has an excellent hook from the recently deceased XXX and then swaggers in with “Dedicate” to remind us exactly who Lil Wayne can be. His flow and switches are endlessly clever. Similarly “Uproar” is classic Lil Wayne with that countdown and the chopped lines and then it goes into “Let It Fly” takes advantage of the Travis Scott pairing for some quite solid trap.

It’s hard to pin down what exactly made Lil Wayne such a beast. To start with, he has an impossible amount of natural talent. It oozes off him. He’s got an exceptional ear for sounds and their pairings. He has a gift for clever, unexpected lines. More than anything though, he just has such irreverent fun with it all. He’s clearly enjoying himself every time he steps in front of the mic and it’s infectious.

Something like “Hittas” is just Wayne with clever, effortless top-tier rapping. He’s able to expertly duel Kendrick in “Mona Lisa” despite Kendrick’s return to his old feature flow. This is actually really good Kendrick, but Wayne is at least able to keep pace if not outshine K.Dot outright here. They’re both really good, really technical, really clever rappers. Lil Wayne then shifts into soulful with “What About Me” and the slower cut works really well too.

There’s unquestionably filler here though, like “Open Letter”, but even that song has moments. “Mess” is pure filler though, much though I sympathize with Wayne. It’s in “Let It All Work Out” that you really start to feel for Weezy. His description of his suicide attempt is startling after years of denial and heart-wrenching in its honesty. It’s interestingly old school as well and the return to one of his older styles works quite well for Wayne here.

However, some of the features also just don’t pan out. “Famous” is unpleasantly reminiscent of recent Em with that saccharine stadium rap hook, Snoop Dogg is a little too lazy on “Dope Niggaz” and Mack Maine’s part in “Start That Shit Off Right” is honestly garbage. Lil Wayne is able to save all of those with energetic, skilled rap, but they might all have been better consigned to the cutting-room floor.

This is unquestionably the return to form of one of the greatest, most unique rappers of all time. It might not be the classics that Wayne was able to string together at his peak, but it is an excellent rap album with some stellar cuts. It’s good to see him back.


U.S. Girls – In A Poem Unlimited

4 Oct

There’s no shortage of bands that mix together pop and rock and jazz and funk, but there are few that manage alchemy as unique as that of U.S. Girls. They’re aggressive to the point of cacophony in parts, and they make that work, and they’re tender in other parts and they make that work too. It’s that kind of album. Everything just works.

I stand by what I said about their sound being unique, but it does still remind me strongly of The Long Blondes, especially on tracks like “M.A.H.” and “Time.”  Like The Long Blondes, U.S. Girls are sharp enough for anyone , both in narrative and in music. “Pearly Gates,” in particular, is a fascinating song with plenty of surprise and some excellent, thought-provoking blasphemy.

The album’s sound, like its message, is layered, complex and full of surprise, right from “Velvet 4 Sale” straight to the end. It’s angry, it’s smart and it’s something you should be listening to.


Noname – Room 25

28 Sep

Room 25 is not just innovative, but singular. I cannot think of another album that sounds anything like it. It mixes an extraordinary amount of jazz and soul into some beautifully laid-back rap and does it all with considerable flair. It takes confidence to try a couplet like “My pussy teachin’ ninth-grade English/My pussy wrote a thesis on colonialism.” and skill to pull it off as effortlessly as Noname does.

Her flow is deeply relaxed and yet technical and often of a surprising pace as she drops flow-of-consciousness bars on similarly peaceful beats. There are parts here where she takes a couple of moments and the backing track could have been part of a quite solid soft jazz album. It’s all the kind of effortless that speaks of extreme competence.

Room 25 has none of the obvious ostentation of so many of its peers. Instead it has skill, imagination and surfeit of what is just great music. This is one of the best albums of the year thus far.


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