Archive by Author

Jamie Cullum – Taller

14 Jun

When I first discovered Jamie Cullum in the late 2000s, he had already recorded five studio albums, and was playing in jazz festivals around the world. And while he was the kind of musician who brought his grandmother’s carpet to lay out on the stage at Blenheim Palace, he was also full of irreverent energy: stomping his feet on the keys of the piano, slapping his palms all over and underneath it, jumping on top of it and leaping off. His vigour was electrifying, and even deeply moving for a reserved person such as myself.

The Pursuit (2009) marks a neat halfway point between the start of his career and now, and it was in the album that followed in 2013 that I first began to hear creeping hints of self-doubt and insecurity:

As I sit and wait for some answers
The questions go round like a kamikaze pilot
Enlightenment’s just a romancer
I wish it were here burning brightly through the skylight .

Family life seemed to bring a new introspective quality to Cullum’s music. It’s not easy to slow down and take stock, to critically examine the costs and rewards of a glamorous profession in the arts, and to confront the fear of failure.

“Innocence is nice, but the world offers us more and it’s wrong not to take it.” As we grow older, so many of us feel that we have irrevocably lost our access to uninhibited creativity and joy. But the complications of being an adult unlock an unfamiliar kind of happiness, and an emotional depth we could never have imagined in innocence. The chords behind the crescendo of “Drink” conjure up with great accuracy the vertiginous relief and fear that accompany the first sensation of joy after a long unhappiness.

But the cheeky musician we’ve known is still around, and he announces it in the title of his latest album. Taller marks a milestone in a twenty-year-long career in jazz music. A bold, effervescent, and unceasingly fun artist now stands at the sobering brink of his forties; and the music inspired at this juncture is nothing short of a gift to everyone who has followed his work over the years.

Jamie Cullum is a small, if dynamic, man, and there has been no dearth of leg-pulling in the tabloids and on the internet about his height, and about his marriage to a substantially taller woman. The fact that he addresses this perceived deficiency head-on indicates that he hasn’t lost his sense of humour, and also that the discontent that has been simmering in the previous two albums will be explored more fully in this one.

“Usher”, the fourth track on the album, is a full-blown sonic party reminiscent in the best way of James Brown and the golden age of Soul. It’s crunchy and granular in a way that is profoundly satisfying (especially if you, like me, have been unable to avoid Trap and American R&B, the slickness of which, though often soothing, can quickly lose your interest). But the lyrics are not quite as cheerful as the music. And it’s a similar story with “You Can’t Hide Away From Love”, another favourite from the album: its lush orchestral arrangement recalls Audrey Hepburn movies, but with menace.

It’ll give you two black eyes
And discolour all your skies

It’ll have you on your back
And break into your flat

So reel me in
Till I’m gasping for air;
There’s no love without despair

It’ll shake you to your core
And leave you crying on the floor
But I’m telling you you can’t hide away from love.

This album examines not only personal demons, but also shared anxieties. Volume 2 of The Eighty-Eight, “an adventurous magazine for the occasional thinker” (or “an occasional magazine for the adventurous thinker”), which Cullum puts together with his friends and family, features a poignant essay about his Indian and Burmese heritage. More than one song on Taller references Brexit, the refugee crisis, British imperialism, and perhaps even the Me Too movement.

Cullum dwells on the unease of living in these times. There’s a stripped down version of “Mankind” on his YouTube channel well worth a listen. The irony of this composition is that it combines gospel music with lyrics that say “so long to sacred,” but there is a refusal to give up on people and the idea that love will conquer all. As Kristin Scott Thomas’ character in Fleabag puts it, “people are all we’ve got.”

This album is an exploration of fundamentals, and Cullum sings repeatedly of digging and searching deep within the earth. One cannot help but think of Seamus Heaney’s poem Digging, and the hope and doubt it expresses about writing and creative work as activities that productively uncover and reveal. “The Age of Anxiety” quotes WH Auden (“only love is what survives of us”), and imbues the song with its apprehension of mortality.

Age of Anxiety, Live from Craxton Studios

Cullum’s interest literature and great works of poetry (his favourite writers are Virginia Woolf and Paul Auster) is perhaps what gives his lyrics their unusual and beguiling quality.

The fact that he has always been an expressive vocalist only makes this better; and speaking of vocals, “Monster” showcases a falsetto range we’ve never heard from him before.

Literary inspirations aside, Cullum draws from an eclectic range of musical sources. For a few years now he has been reverse-engineering pop music on his YouTube playlist The Song Society, and curating more challenging compositions for his program “The Jazz Show” on BBC Radio 2. It’s fascinating to see these influences coming together to form an album that sounds — fittingly for a crossover artist — unique, and one that does not sit comfortably in either the pop or the jazz genre.

The great thing about the songs on this album is that they’re more than just tunes. Each song develops; it meanders into different moods and colours and tones. If you were to leave a song midway, you’d probably miss the best part, and definitely miss the whole story. The album requires, and rewards, patience. This is the kind of art I find myself most grateful for these days.

Taller is an invitation to revisit Jamie Cullum’s oeuvre; because the seeds of inventiveness and thoughtfulness were always there. I’ve been rediscovering the deluxe version of Catching Tales, for instance, with its cover of “Everybody Loves The Sunshine”, which is a youthful, groovier expression of “Drink”, the backbone of the new album. I am so excited to dip back in to this amazing body of work. There is no doubt about it: Jamie Cullum is a peerless and towering talent.

By Eesha Kumar

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Making It Happen: An Interview with Tejas Menon

12 Jun

Tejas Menon has had quite a journey to get where he is now. He grew up in Dubai and moved to India after high school. Not quite fitting in with the academic environment of college, Menon found his first calling as a Pune-based RJ, through which he got his first taste of the Indian indie music world. He then went on to release a debut EP, Small Victories, in 2014, and followed it up last year with an LP, Make It Happen – which was notable for an interesting set of reasons. First, it featured the same brand of lively, unpretentious music that put his EP on the map. Second, it came with a great design aesthetic – unique yet perfectly in sync with the music. Third, and most interestingly, it was crowdsourced online and received its funding in a matter of hours.

However, Tejas Menon is more than just his music. Menon founded and manages Kadak Apple Records, an indie music label from Bombay whose roster features a number of rising stars. Another Menon venture – this one outside music altogether – is Geek Fruit HQ, a platform to discuss and enjoy all things nerdy.

Read on for our long-form interview with Tejas Menon to find out more about his musical style, crowdfunding his first LP, how he came about founding his other ventures, and much more.

Hi Tejas, how are you?

I’m great, thanks. And thank you for doing this!

No problem! We’ve wanted to speak to you for a while now. So let’s jump right in and start from the beginning. What got you into music, when did you get into music, and what were you listening to when you were growing up?

Well, to start with, I was born in India, but we moved to Dubai when I was around 3 months old. I spent the first 18 years of my life there. I had some few Indian influences growing up – stuff from my parents, like cricket and Bollywood, and from going to an Indian school as well. But most of the time, my time was spent watching movies, reading comic books, consuming a weird amalgamation of Bollywood, Eastern influences, and Western influences.

As soon as I was old enough to discern an affinity to music, I started discovering pop music – Michael Jackson’s Dangerous, and so on. I also happened to be a good Elvis impersonator (even now, Elvis is like God to me). My friends were listening to popular music like Bon Jovi and Linkin Park, and I started listening to a few other artists on my own, like Madonna. I was a Backstreet Boys fan – still am, unironically.

Yeah, it’s a very 90s kid thing to be.

Yeah, I was born in ’89 so I’m a through-and-through 90s kid. And then I was a singer in my high school band, drummed for a bit. The first instrument I ever learnt was actually the keys, after my mom bought me a keyboard. But not really a serious approach to music. I finally wrote my first proper song when I was around 18. I got a little more into songwriting after leaving high school and the pressures of the Indian education system behind – I was terrible at academics.

The other thing is, I had a tumultuous childhood – my parents are separated and it was a tough time growing up. It was difficult for me to focus on what I wanted to do in life. The kids in my school went on to study amazing things abroad, but I really didn’t feel that that was for me.

Long story short, I ended up in Pune after high school, living with my cousins. They sort of raised me a second time for the four or five years that I stayed with them. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but they made sure I got a degree at least. So, I went to Wadia College, got a degree in Economics.

But in that time, I did something really important in my life. I went for what seemed to be a casual internship at Radio One. I was there for about three years; learnt a lot from the artists that came in, polishing my communication skills, and so on. I’ve found a lot more stability in a work environment than a schooling environment, to be honest. I loved school as a kid because it was a respite from home, but school ultimately wasn’t for me.

So there I was at 19, an RJ with my own show, and I really felt like the Mayor of Pune (laughs). All this time, I was writing music at home, sharing it with mostly my friends, but it was really for me and me alone. I didn’t see any point of performing live. But that was because I really didn’t know the options out there for indie artists like me.

I eventually found some artists online, musicians like Gowri Jayakumar, and I was amazed that people were putting up their independent music. I was like, “Why am I not doing that, too?” So I started putting up music online, and went for a few shows.

And then – I don’t know if this was just timing or serendipity – the first NH7 Weekender happened and they chose Pune for the venue. I just happened to be the RJ at the radio station promoting the festival. The first thought when I went to check it out was, “Oh my God. I can totally do this. I can have a band.” My second thought was, “This is an amazing feeling, to perform in front of people who wanted to listen to music.” Taking that cue, I started playing more shows around Pune. This was around 2010 or 2011 – I’m actually coming up on my 10th year of playing music now!

So you’re a veteran of the Indian indie music scene, then. (laughs) Who do you play with when you’re on stage or recording the album?

Well, I’ve gone through a number of lineups. Some of my greatest friends have come from music. Warren from Blackstratblues used to play with us; in fact he produced the first album. Aalok from Something Relevant used to play with me back in the day, too. The core lineup of the band right now is [bassist] Adil Karwa and [drummer] Jehangir Jehangir (JJ). Adil plays with a number of bands here including The Colour Compound and the Koniac Net (who just put out an amazing album, by the way), and JJ is also a studio owner now – he owns Island City Studios, which is right now the place to record in Bombay. In fact, the album that we’re working on right now is the three of us working together. I’ve written the songs but we’re basically co-producing it.

And you recorded together as well for this album?

Yeah, all three of us played and produced it together. They’re like my brothers, basically.

Nice. Yeah, we actually interviewed David from the Koniac Net a while ago, so we’re glad to see that they’re finally getting the support and appreciation they deserve.

Man, that’s so true. Nail on head, really. I’ve been a Koniac fan for a while. It’s like the old-school 90s alternative stuff that I really love. And David is an awesome guy, really puts hard work into the Koniac Net. He’s like a true hustler of yore, you know? (laughs)

Yeah, we’ve been fans for a while too, so we’re really glad to see that they finally broke through with the latest record [They Finally Heard Us].

It’s arguably one of my favorite albums of this year so far, you know? And they’re just a guitar-heavy alternative band, but this one is a deeply immersive and emotional album. Something intimate about it.

Yeah. So we know this is somewhat of a cliched question to ask, but as the songwriter of the act, what comes first for you, the music or the words?

So I listened to this Song Explorer podcast with Wilco a while ago, and the front man was like, “I just sing, and words just come out of my mouth. I trust my own instincts and my body enough, that whatever is coming out of me is what’s relevant to what I want to sing out.” Since then, I kind of work along this philosophy. The essence of the themes come out very naturally. The song I did this most for was “Falling Out” from my last record [2018’s Make It Happen]. The melody and the words came out at the same time while I was playing the guitar. Usually the guitar parts come together first.

I used to try and be clever about writing lyrics. I wanted to make funny and interesting rhymes, metaphors here and there, and I thought this was songwriting is: to be cheeky and clever. As I got older, I found it a little disingenuous to simply try to make a rhyme or to make something fit. From my first album [2014’s Small Victories EP] to the second, there’s a big shift in the lyrics, if you notice. It’s a lot more abstract, a little less narrative, a lot more organic and real. I prefer this a lot more to what I used to write like. I try to keep it as fluid and as true as I can.

What was going through your head when you put together the songs on Make It Happen?

Well, my first record was as indie as it gets – arranged in three days, recorded in three days, mixed in four days, and then it was out. There was no room for experimentation, but that was how Warren and I intended for it to be. For Make It Happen, I really wanted a great, sprawling record with big sounds and big ideas. I wanted to be indulgent and create something that I was really proud of.

Two threads across the album are my vocals and the theme (centered on my late 20s). I took every song individually rather than as an entire album together. People may complain that some songs stick out or don’t fit in, but I felt that this was a representation of my entire life. Nobody is just one thing, and I hate being slotted into “Oh, this is a pop record, oh, this is that sort of vibe”, so I liked the idea that it’s really dynamic. I wanted people to feel positive, but also feel the depth and range of things I had to offer. Everything was so important to me, from the design to the track listing, and I’m really proud of what we put out.

But that being said, I’m proud of my first album, too. That’s who I was then. Maybe it’s not true right now, but that’s exactly what I wanted at that point. It’s a snapshot of who I was then.

We’re glad you brought up the design on your album. We really loved the color palette and the visuals on Make It Happen with the little Adventure Time type of cartoons, and so on. How did you come up with the aesthetic? Did you design it yourself?

Tejas: Well, I am a very poor designer, so it wasn’t me (laughs). After my first album, I felt that the design didn’t say that much about me visually. So I went and spoke to Neysa Mendes (@goodslice), who’s been really instrumental in a bunch of albums from the indie scene. She said, “Tejas, you have to close your eyes, and think about what you want people to visualize when they say your name.” After that, I spent a good amount of time thinking about the visuals and imagery that I wanted to project.

I then took the aid of Studio Kohl, and an amazing designer and conceptual artist called Mira Malhotra. I told Mira and the team that I wanted it to be representative of who I am – I love animation, cartoons, bright colors. I literally still watch cartoons and I’m turning 30 this year (laughs). And I love Adventure Time, as you pointed out, with its mythology and bizarreness. I wanted to create this universe of my own, with every track having its own single art, and all those pieces put together form the back art of the album.

We wanted to talk to you about another interesting aspect of the album, which is that you crowdfunded it online, and you raised the money you needed in a matter of hours! Talk us through how that happened, and why you chose that route.

Yeah, it was amazing. I had no idea it was going to happen in literally six hours! My friends put in good amounts, but there were so many folks I didn’t expect. I got Rs. 50,000 from a high school that I hadn’t spoken to in literally ten years. It was an incredible and humbling experience, to be honest.

As for the why. Sometimes, I feel that the independent music scene in India is a rich person’s sport, you know? You need a benefactor’s help, whether it’s your folks or your own savings, and so on. I’m on my own, with some help from friends, so it’s an expensive affair. This helped a lot.

Also, the theme of Make It Happen is basically about taking the right decisions to improve your life. I have been a product of everybody’s goodwill – so thematically, contextually, it made sense to fund the album this way. It got everyone involved, and excited to hear more from me. Turned out great!

The other aspect of this was, I knew I had to work on the marketing and promotion of the album anyway. The music industry right now is set up in such a way that there’s not much money coming in from sales or from streaming. Really, the money is coming from performances – everything you do as a musician is only to promote your gig. Even your album! Think about it that way, and you realize you have to spend a lot of marketing money. I’m from an advertising background, so I get this. It’s not enough to be a talented musician anymore. So this was a unique way to promote the album, too.

Yeah, for sure. Switching gears a bit, we wanted to ask you about your record label, Kadak Apple Records. We ourselves are named after a record label, so this is a particularly interesting aspect for us!

Well, I was releasing my album independently, and I wanted it come from someplace legitimate. In any creative industry, people take you more seriously when you’re coming from a legitimate source. I started Kadak Apple with my good friend and part-time manager, Krish Makhija. We wanted songwriters to be taken more seriously. There’s nothing wrong with playing three-hour brunches, but we felt songwriters in this town had more to offer.

Sometimes [before starting the label], I would get calls saying, “Hey, we want you to play at so-and-so but we can’t afford to pay you that much” – but I felt I deserved it. After I set up the label, I’d ask them, “Why don’t you get in touch with my record label”, and they’d send an email – and I’d respond to the email myself (laughs) but I’d get the gig or the deal this time.

You were just playing the game, basically.

100%. It’s a perception thing; it’s advertising. Right now, Kadak Apple has about nine songwriters on the roster, and I legitimately think that these are some of the best songwriters in the country. But beyond talent, they are mostly there because they are my friends, you know?

Kadak Apple is more of a collective than a label, really. I facilitate opportunities, coordinate artist availabilities with gig requests, coordinate media requests, provide industry contacts – whatever I can offer from my knowledge. I don’t believe in a trade-secret kind of environment. The Indian indie music industry is so small that it’s in my interest right now for everyone to have a No. 1 record. I want to give people a choice of different genres and artists to hear. We need more people to be part of the scene. Eventually, we’ll get to a more commercialized industry. So that was the intention behind Kadak Apple.

As for the name – Krish believes in the whole kadak philosophy. He’s a cinematographer, so he believes the kadak kind of shots. Kadak chai, and so on. And Apple because of Apple Records and the Beatles.

Cool, that’s a fun back story! So switching gears one more time to yet another thing you’re part of – Geek Fruit. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Geek Fruit is something I started after I quit my job in 2015. I was working crazy hours in advertising, with three hours of travel every day and so on. After I quit, I had a lot of free time. I tried to focus on what could keep me occupied in the time that I didn’t want to do music. And I say that because I don’t really consider myself to be a musician’s musician. I think I’m good at it, and that the craft of songwriting has come to me, but I don’t feel very “artist-y” about the way I approach music. Sometimes, when I hang out with musicians, I still feel that imposter syndrome really hard.

But when it comes to movies, and watching them and talking about them – that’s something I’ve been involved with far longer than I have been with music. I’ve had opinions about movies forever, I love Marvel Comics, DC, Star Wars, so on. And I really feel that the nerds won, you know? When I was a kid and trying to talk about kyber crystals in a Jedi’s lightsaber, no one cared. But now, everyone cares! The biggest TV show, the biggest movies – they’re all from nerd culture now.

I wanted to start something where we can review stuff, do podcasts, make content – this is something I genuinely love. I can say I love it even more than I love music, in some ways. The ability to create is amazing, but the ability to consume, and discuss, is fantastic. So I created Geek Fruit with two friends from Kadak Apple – Jishnu Guha and Dinkar Dwivedi. We’ve been doing podcasts for three years now, with 250+ episodes out – two episodes per week, every week. I’m happy to say we have a humble but dedicated following that come for our events and parties now.

Last year, for Halloween, we had a party called Super Scary Awesome. We did a Disney tribute at the end with our entire band and lots of Kadak Apple people. Everyone dressed up as weird characters. It was one of my proudest moments because it was just so unique.

This has been amazing; thank you, Tejas. We wanted to wrap up with a few Rapid Fire questions, if you’re up for it?

Sure, go for it!

Since you mentioned Marvel, and that’s so big in pop culture right now – who’s your favorite Marvel character (from the comics or the movies) and what’s your favorite movie from the MCU?

I was a big Spiderman fan as a kid; Peter Parker and I go way back. So that’s my favorite. I also love some of the fringe characters: Iron Fist, Daredevil, Moon Girl, so on. Out of all the movies, it’s hard for me to not say [Avengers:] Endgame because they stuck the landing to a very difficult project. I also love [Captain America:] Civil War and [Captain America:] The Winter Soldier.

The other big pop culture phenomenon right now is Game of Thrones – what did you think of the finale?

I have complicated thoughts on it. I’m not going around petitioning that they should remake the show (laughs), but it’s hard to not point out the glaring issues. So yeah, I was disappointed.

People our age are a lot more clued because of things like Reddit. They know why they like or dislike something. This entire season was a disappointment and there were huge pacing issues. There was also the overall question of why they shortened it to six episodes, too. The moment the Night King died, I kind of checked out. You shouldn’t be able to kill him in a physical combat. Why is Jon alive? What was the point of Bran’s whole story? We haven’t gotten the answers to all of these questions.

And if you had to pick a TV show where you loved it from start to finish, what would it be?

I don’t think there is a perfect show, but I think Adventure Time comes pretty close. Apart from that, I love Gilmore Girls, House, Breaking Bad (obviously). 30 Rock is up there, too.

What’s your favorite gig so far?

We played one gig recently in Humming Tree that was really great. We took some risk by taking 100% of the gate, so we had to make the sales on whoever’s actually showed up. We wanted to try out the format. About 120 people or so showed up, and we sold a lot of merch, had posters made, and so on. It was great.

I also really enjoy going to places that don’t get a lot of live music. I went on a tour last year to the North East with Mali, and those were some of the best gigs I’ve done. Playing to different audiences that we’ve never played to before, and having our songs sung back at us – it was amazing.

Who’s one Indian artist that you’d love to collaborate with at some point?

I think Meba Ofilia is amazing. Young, new, R&B / soul kind of singer-songwriter. Chayan [Adhikari] from Advaita. Aditya Ashok from Ox7gen would be next on my list, too.

All images courtesy the artist. Check out Tejas’ website here for more information about him and where to listen to his music.

Foals – Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost, Pt. 1

10 Jun

It’s 2008. The indie rock world is on a multi-year high – after the Strokes’ game-changing debut in 2001, there is a virtually non-stop stream of buzzy indie rock bands: Franz Ferdinand, the Libertines, Kaiser Chiefs, the Arctic Monkeys and so on. Many wonder: will there ever be a need for yet another indie rock band?

Through all that noise, Foals managed to prick up the world’s collective ears with their blistering math rock debut album, Antidotes. Math rock – with its frenetic arrangements and asymmetrical time signatures – had of course been around for a couple of decades (see: Slint, Polvo), but Foals served to bring it to the forefront of the ’00s resurgent indie rock scene.

Over the years, Foals released three more albums; but for many fans from the original Antidotes era, the band has strayed from its trademark sound into a slightly different tone. “Spanish Sahara” from 2009’s Total Life Forever featured on that era’s edgy prestige TV shows (Skins, Entourage). “Mountain at My Gates” from 2015’s What Went Down starred on the FIFA 2016 soundtrack. There’s nothing wrong with these things, of course; but the new material didn’t capture your undivided attention in the first two seconds – as did, say, Antidotes’ “Balloons” or “Red Socks Pugie”.

The fifth album, 2019’s Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Pt. 1, changes that trajectory. Here, the band seems to have finally figured out how to piece together the irrepressible energy of the first album – jagged riffs and sing-shouted lyrics – with the more mainstream, polished feel of the latter albums.

There are several stand-outs on this album. We already wrote about “Exits” – a slithering majesty of a track that moves seamlessly from the dramatic to the psychedelic over the course of a showstopping six minutes. (Do also check out the music video, featuring Game of Thrones’ Isaac Hempstead-Wright.) Another must-listen is “Café D’Athens” – a fascinating juxtaposition of aloof vocals layered over nerve-wracking, tinny beats; think Radiohead meets Hercules & Love Affair.

What we really love about Foals is their ability to conjure up abstract feelings within decidedly non-abstract music. “White Onions” summons a claustrophobic feel with its repetitive riffs and non-stop drums; aptly, the lyrics reference lairs, mazes, cages, and fighting for air. “Syrups” is sexier: a thick bassline leads into heady guitars and steady drums, eliciting perhaps a mysterious road-trip into the clear night sky (“’Cause I’m about to take flight / Please don’t ask me why,” chime in the prescient lyrics).

This is the reason that Foals are featured on so many soundtracks: they are exceptionally gifted at pinning down moods and feelings within the confines of their spindly guitars and relentless beats. The band’s first four outings tended to focus on one part of that two-part puzzle: either the feelings or the music.

With Everything, the band has finally put it together. Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Pt. 1 is one of the best albums of 2019 – and, as luck would have it, we are still due for Pt. 2. We can’t wait.

Wayfarer: An Interview with Dhruv Visvanath

6 Jun

In our honest opinion, twenty-something Dhruv Visvanath is already one of the most iconic musicians in India today. With his unique percussive guitar style, clear design aesthetic, and an irrepressibly nomadic take on life, it’s pretty easy to pick a Dhruv Visvanath song out of a musical lineup.

In 2015, Visvanath released a well-received debut album, Orion; but like all great musicians, he didn’t let the success define his career. In 2016, he embarked upon a massive 17-city tour across India – no doubt driven by his keen (and well-documented) sense of wanderlust. The tour resulted in 2018’s The Lost Cause – a brilliant album with lilting melodies, beautiful imagery and Visvanath’s masterful guitar skills.

Top Five Records caught up with Dhruv for a detailed chat about his influences, love of travel, musical style, and much more. Read on below:

Let’s start with a picture of what makes you into the artist you are today: What got you into music, and when did you first start getting into it?

I’ve been playing and learning since I was seven, and it’s been a long and arduous journey at times; but I’m ever so grateful for music. I started off with the piano, and from there my thirst for musical knowledge just grew further and further, up to a point where I just picked up a guitar and started learning through trial and error. To this day, I still feel like that’s the right way for me! Trial and error above everything else!

We at TFR see glimpses of Sufjan Stevens, the Decembrists, and hints of Mumford & Sons in your tunes. What would you say are the biggest musical influences in your music? Apart from other musicians, what else has influenced you as an artist?

First off, thank you! You guys make me blush! I have always looked to using stories from my life as my biggest source of inspiration for writing songs. My family, my dearest friends, my heartaches and moments of happiness have allowed me to express my thoughts and feelings through music; I just try to do my part by being honest and true to myself.

Musical inspirations are an entirely different story. Would you believe me if I told you I was listening to Dr. Dre a few nights ago? All jokes aside, I do listen to and absorb what I can from as many different artists, because you can learn many things just by listening to different songs. Currently I’m hooked on to Daniel Caesar, Parcels and Jungle, but I’ve always loved bands like Alter Bridge, Foals and Snarky Puppy. I really like the way they arrange their songs, and how they build their music and it’s such a useful lesson when making music!

Your music stands out among Indian singer-songwriters for your unique style of percussive acoustic guitar. How did you get interested in this style of playing? How did you train yourself in it, from a technical standpoint?

I do feel like I am unique for sure, but I’m thrilled to see more and more people just stepping in to their comfort zone when it comes to making music! It’s a pleasure to explore and I want to take the time to learn from everyone doing things differently. I like to think of myself as a songwriter more than just a guitarist but I absolutely love playing. A lot of my songs feel like they start from the guitar, and grow into bigger stories with more layers, and to be honest, I only want to write good songs, and my technique has helped me do that.

I’m a self-taught guitarist, and have maintained that throughout my musical journey. It allows me to continue making mistakes and learning in new ways! Honestly though, I used to play the electric guitar and I could feel myself stagnating, and there was a point where worries arose and I started falling out of love with the guitar. It wasn’t until I found a few videos on YouTube with guys smacking the bodies of their acoustics – and epiphany struck! I would literally sit and learn these percussively flavoured songs and would spend hours imitating these amazing guitarists, from Andy Mckee, to Don Ross, to Antoine Dufour. These folks were genuinely great teachers and it really allowed me to find my own style along the way.

Music video for “Jungle”, from The Lost Cause (2018)

Let’s talk about the songwriting process. The rhythm and melodies in your songs are so intricate, and yet your words always seem to lock right into place. What comes first for you, the music or the lyrics?

I love a sense of rhythm in everything. Having words that complement the rhythm just make the song that much more enjoyable, both to write and to listen to. Oftentimes, the music does come first, but it depends. Most of my ideas stem from an idea that’s ten seconds long. My sense of rhythm comes from how I play, and I use my strengths to work my on weaknesses when it comes to writing layers or working on my voice.

It really helps to write in a manner which brings out the best in you, rather than trying to force a song out. You want to feel like playing and listening to music that makes you want to be a better person, and a more expressive person. It’s a strange way of looking at it, but writing a new song gives me so much happiness, and it feels like constipation if I don’t write!

One of our favorite aspects about Dhruv as a musician (apart from the music itself, of course) is your keen sense of design, from the common font across your output, to the connected color palette, to the incredibly unique choice of, for example, using mops to tell a story. What inspires your design aesthetic?

The mops weren’t my idea! That goes to the director of my video for “Wild,” Tanvi Gandhi. But I have to say I have always looked at myself as someone who’s had to build himself from the ground up. I like to create as much of an identity as I possibly can, but that’s important for anyone who wants to be an artist. I pick vivid colours because I see vivid colours emanating from my music, and I want to show a sense of wonder and wistfulness. I feel like a person who plays the acoustic guitar to it’s absolute limits, so for me, bright colours and extreme contrasts seem like a fitting portrayal of who I am musically.

In any song, the most important thing is the story, and I’m a very story-driven person. The use of abstraction comes naturally to me and I love it when the songs bring things to life. A sense of abstraction is key, and it’s not often that someone feels like a mop until they see a mop act and live just like you!

Let’s talk about that music video for “Wild”, because it really is unlike anything else out there in Indian indie music today. How did you come up with the concept for that music video? How did you plan out the production work that went into actually putting it together? And how long did it take you to film it?

Again, I can take credit for the song! The video, however, was an entirely different task. My director, Tanvi Gandhi, bombarded me with ideas for six months until we hit on this one kooky idea of expressing human angst through mops – and the vision stuck. Production started in January 2018 and the rest of the creative team behind the video spent a month going on reconnaissance trips and making prototypes of the mops. It wasn’t until the first week of April 2018 where I got a finished product. I’m very glad we took the time to make the video, and I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out. It’s travelled to places I haven’t even been and I’m so glad it’s been played at many festivals. (Ed. Note: Dhruv is too humble to mention it, but “Wild” was shown at the prestigious SXSW festival this year.) It was a product of love and for it to be loved and appreciated in the way that it has is very special to me.

Tell us a little bit about your recent album, The Lost Cause, and how you put together all the pieces there. We know you went on an eponymous India-wide tour before the album actually came out – to what extent, and how, did that tour influence the music on the album?

Well, if I’m honest, I recorded most of the music before actually going on tour! The whole purpose of the tour was to go through India and explore the various stories that my family had experienced throughout the country. It definitely did affect the finished product, however, and I’m grateful to have gone on that journey. It really allowed me to attach stories to my songs, and some of the songs I’d written prior to going on the tour didn’t make much sense until I’d experienced these stories. The album felt effortless to work on. I’d sit and work with just writing songs in my bedroom and then recording them late at night. I took the project on as a chance to improve my ability to record my music, and I’m glad I did it.

The backbone of your album, The Lost Cause, centers around exploration – from new cities to aspects of you as a person and as a musician. Has this streak of discovery always been part of who you are?

I’ve been a traveler all my life. I’ve grown up in different places, and it’s always been an absolute blessing to go out an explore. The song itself was more about a need to identify your dreams, and to follow them wholeheartedly. Placing the right amount of faith in yourself will push you further than anything else will. I wrote this song for all the times I’ve been told that what I do is just that, a lost cause. I thought to make it an epic of sorts, as large as I possibly could, so it’d feel like something you’d shout at the top of a mountain!

What’s next on the radar for you – New music? New tours? Something else entirely?

Well, I’m in the middle of recording some newer songs, but also I’ve taken the last year or so to write the best music I can, and just create. I’ve been fortunate to work on a few film scores as well and it’s something I’m extremely keen on continuing. Finally, this last year has taught me what it means to be a good producer as well, and I want to take this chance to really improve and work with more people and make more songs with more people if I can!

Thank you, Dhruv, that was excellent! Before we wrap up, we’d like to ask you some quick-fire questions. Ready?

What are your top three Desert Island Discs? (i.e., three albums that you would be fine listening to, without access to any other music, for the rest of your life?)

One Day Remains by Alter Bridge; Phil Collins’ Greatest Hits; Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace by Foo Fighters.

What’s been your favorite gig so far?

So far, it has to be a gig I did at NIFT Delhi in October last year. I had my best friends with me on stage, and playing a fun, exciting night to a nice big amphitheater.

Who’s one Indian artist that you’d love to work with?

Warren Mendonsa, Dhruv Ghanekar, Parekh & Singh… the list is very, very long.

Given your love of exploration, we assume you’ve travelled a lot around the world. What’s one city that you find yourself wishing you could visit again?

Two cities, Montreal and Hong Kong. I grew up in Hong Kong and that place will always be special to me; and Montreal because it’s just one of the most musically charged and creative places I’ve ever been to.

What albums or songs are on constant rotation right now?

I love listening to any song made by SG Lewis, an amazing producer. As for albums, I’ve been listening to Let it Die by Feist, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? by Billie Eilish and Assume Form by James Blake.

You can visit Dhruv’s website for information on where to listen to his music. All images courtesy the artist.

Monthly Playlist: May 2019

1 Jun

What a month May has been for great music. Stalwarts made a strong mark, with Vampire Weekend releasing a highly-lauded fourth studio album and Tyler the Creator releasing a fifth – and his best-rated – record. Newcomers, too, blew it out of the water: notably, British rapper slowthai and relative newbie Jamila Woods, who has put out one of the best albums of the year. With all this great music, we really had our work cut out this month picking five great songs to share: but here goes.

5. “We Belong Together” by Vampire Weekend feat. Danielle Haim

As longtime readers would know, anything with one of the Haim sisters is almost always alright in our books. “We Belong Together” – the second Danielle Haim collab from Vampire Weekend’s fifth album, Father of the Bride – is a great, old-school duet love song with a quintessentially-Ezra-Koenig melancholy twist. Black and white, day and night, left and right, bowls and plates – Koenig and Haim list off the timeless and kitschy ways pairs the two lovers belong together. But wait, what’s this? “Baby, there’s no use in being clever / Baby, it don’t mean we’ll stay together,” they say, on a sugary-light bop, following it up with a devastating “We go together like lions and lambs / Oh, we go together”. This is another irresistibly great song from what has been a solid album front to back. Look out for a full review of FOTB from us soon – until then, take a listen through this track (and the other we’ve covered in our playlists!).

4. “Doin’ Time” by Lana del Rey

Speaking of melancholy crooners, the absolute queen of mournful murmuring is back. Lana del Rey has announced a new album in 2019 (the brilliantly-named Norman Fucking Rockwell), and “Doin’ Time” gives us a good taste of the excellent things to come. A cover of the ska / punk band Sublime’s 1996 single – and itself sampling the jazz standard “Summertime” – “Doin’ Time” is a head-fake that starts off like a cheery hit and segues into an adult-contemporary drive through Lana’s, well, sublime vocals. The result, as you may expect from a story about feeling trapped by an unfaithful partner, is a mixture between fuzzy contemplation and spiky regret. More to come from Lana this year, and we couldn’t be more pumped.

3. “Record Collection” by Kaiser Chiefs

In another throwback to the mid-aughts, Kaiser Chiefs are back with “Record Collection”, a song that’s basically an updated version of every one of your favorite songs from your high school years (think Killers, Franz Ferdinand, Kaiser Chiefs themselves, and so on). According to lead singer Ricky Wilson, the band recorded their seventh studio album Duck, slated for July 26th (featuring this new track) after going back and reminiscing over their own first few records. You can hear it too: after a forgettable couple of records in the middle, Kaiser Chiefs finally sound rejuvenated. A thick bassline and poppy drums elevate Wilson’s vocoder-style vocals on “Record Collection”, and the song is peppered with the sort of supple hooks that made “Ruby” all the rage more than a decade ago. (Has it really been that long?!) With “Record Collection”, it looks like we have yet another great summer album to await – mark your calendars!

2. “Vacancy” by Havelock

With so many releases from well-known artists this month, it’s easy to miss tracks like “Vacancy”, the second track (ever) by English singer Havelock. But, wow, are we glad we didn’t miss it – and we are so happy to recommend it to our readers, too. “Vacancy” tells a tale well-known by young people around the world – hustling until you make it, with an end in mind but not in sight. Beyond his chill vocals and the warmth of the production, what Havelock really cracks is that clever yet effortless turn of phrase. In fact, there’s a line on here that we loved so much that we’ll transcribe it here in full: “’Cause you got a brand-new vacancy, and I want to join the agency; I hope that it can give me something that I could hold, somewhere that I could go, without working to the bone: can you give me that?,” he asks; achingly poetic in his naivety. “My snooze is on repeat / I know I’d better wake up or I’ll wake up in the streets” goes another splendid couplet. We haven’t been this excited for a new artist in a long time – and we hope you feel the same way, too. (If you liked this tune, you’ll love “Pig Latin”, his debut single.)

1. “Inglorious” by slowthai, feat. Skepta

From an arrangement standpoint, “Inglorious” has a very simple layout: a short intro, followed by a verse by slowthai and the hook, followed by another verse by Skepta and the hook. But what happens in those five parts may well have changed the topography of British rap. Of course, Skepta is already famous; his unapologetic display of British culture – in a genre dominated by American culture – has placed him on a 2017 list of the most influential people in the UK. On “Inglorious”, his talents and persona are put to the best possible collaborative use with newcomer – and inevitable star – slowthai. A dreamlike intro leads into one of the best beat drops we’ve heard all year, along with a volley of British-isms and descriptions of struggle (“Remember when they wouldn’t let me in / Now their wages just a day’s per diem”). “Inglorious” features on slowthai’s debut album, Nothing Great About Britain, which is honestly one of the best albums we’ve heard all year. Listen to “Inglorious” – if you like it, you’re in for a treat for the rest of the album.

Punk And Polish: A Chat with Rishi Bradoo

8 May

Those who have been paying close attention to Mumbai’s indie scene cannot deny the welcome shift in the quality of production in recent years. The scene has been graced by a wave of savvy producer-slash-engineers who have really helped propel the quality of music and cultivate a songwriting mindset among younger artists. Rishi Bradoo, former frontman of Mumbai electro-punk trio Blek and Chief Tinkerer at Theatre 74 studios, is one such torchbearer, with his stamp on some of the city’s finest recent releases including Awkward Bong’s In the Brightest Corners and a string of tracks by Ramya Pothuri. There’s no denying Rishi’s prowess as a studio engineer but that’s just one of the many spices that comprise his secret sauce. We recently caught up with Rishi at his studio in Mumbai to discuss his journey in the music scene and the methods to his magic.

So let’s get this out of the way… How did you get into music?

Right. So I got into music in school. I’d started playing the guitar for some reason and it stuck. That was the time when Superfuzz and the like had just started putting out music. Plus, it generally seemed fun to put chords together. It felt like LEGO. The minute I learned to put these chords together, I quit my guitar classes.

As a teenager, I was particularly frustrated with the way Indian musicians looked at music, which was with this cover-band mindset. Bands around me didn’t seem to care about putting out something truly original and that sort of irked me. That’s how I got to writing my own music. But it wasn’t until college did I get exposed to working with professional musicians. Xavier’s [St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai] surprisingly turned out to be fertile ground for budding musicians at the time. A lot of guys I met at college are working professionally in music right now. My college scene was basically defined by tons of college fests and a failed band.

What failed band?

Let’s not talk about it.  But yeah the first gig I ever played with a “legit” band was at this shitty excuse for a venue called Jazz by the Bay. We were teenagers at the time, and didn’t realize [what we were getting into]. Our first set had 10  “originals” and something like one or two covers. None of the other kid bands were doing that and it seemed pretty radical at the time. After our run of 5 shows at JBTB, we were bitch-slapped into ground reality though. It wasn’t until later that I met Jared and Varoon, our drummer and we would go on to form Blek. For a year we made the rounds of the college circuit and were starting to gain some momentum. We’d get our next gig at the last gig we played. We’d play a gig, talk to somebody after the gig and hustle another gig and eventually it led us to this place called B69.

It was an underground venue and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t legal. Sweat would literally evaporate, condense on the ceilings and then pour out onto the musicians playing on stage. So yeah, it was a pretty gnarly venue but a lot of young bands got to cut their teeth over there… you know… because you could afford to be bad.

We met the Lightyears over there and we would end up sharing a lot of bills together.

2012 was one of the most influential years for me. That was when I was convinced that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. In early 2012, we cut our record, Hexes + Drama & other reasons for evacuation and things blew up. We started getting booked all over the place. Within a year we had toured the entire country, in our third year of college. We were even invited to play in the UK at the Great Escape Festival.

What was that like?

Playing the Great Escape festival changed a lot of things for us. It was pretty eye-opening. The difference between what standards need to be and where they were in the scene at the time really came to the forefront. I realized that why people make music in the independent music scene in India and why people made music there were two completely different things. This thought had been on my nerves much earlier and was only reinforced when I got there. Interacting with musicians from around the globe was a far cry from the experiences I had in India. It was quite bittersweet actually. It felt like we were lagging behind in many ways but it also opened my eyes to what was possible. We had all this talent lying around that could definitely shine through more clearly if we had a certain change in mindset and environment.

What got you into audio? Was it a general sense of disillusionment with the production quality at the time?  

It wasn’t about production quality. Production quality was inevitably going to get better and was actually quite amazing even at the time, just not in indie music. All the young bands here over the last seven or eight years haven’t really had any good role models to look up to. I don’t consider Shaiir+ Func and Pentagram to be good role models at all!

The general attitude of bands here is:

I have these chords and I kind of made them go together. I also have some lyrics written over some vocal melody and it sounded fine in the jam room so I guess I have a song.

Just because you jammed it out in a jam-room and it sounded “tight” doesn’t make it a complete song. You really need to sit down and focus on the nuances of songwriting and that only comes with focused effort. What a lot of debut artists need to understand is you’re making music, not releasing YouTube content. The way most indie artists in India treat music is as if they’re releasing content.

You know I’ve noticed, whenever an artist enters the studio with the desire to have fun and make something they care about, the record always sounds good. Whether they’re good musicians or not, the record sounds good. There’s a kind of carelessness or honest expression that’s captured. Whenever an artist comes to the studio with this careerist mindset of wanting to release a record because they have to release a record that year, 7 out of 10 times, the record doesn’t sound as great. You can always hear it in the music, when there’s a sense of insincerity in the studio.

People put too much emphasis on mixing, engineering and the like but the actual emphasis should be on the writing.

So coming back to the question… when you’re not in the record cutting business, you don’t realize the kind of effort that goes in. It all seems like knobs and buttons. There’s a lot of microscopic detail that you’re paying attention to and macroscopic details you’re trying to balance out and that takes years is what I’ve realized over time. You kind of pick it up along the way.

For me, at that time, I felt like I could figure the writing part out. But I wanted to cut my own records. I wanted to have decisive control over it, not having to be reliant on the one person in Bombay I trust with my work.

What was Audio School in Alchemea like? Did you get to work with some big ticket producers?

In London, I studied under the guy who mixed Klaxons and Nick Cave. I also got to spend about a week with Tchad Blake who’s a personal hero of mine. He’s the guy who mixed Arctic Monkeys’ AM. He also worked on the Black Keys’ records. But yeah, that’s about it. I don’t think it really matters as much as you’d think. The thing about learning is, it’s more about who you are as a student and not so much about who is teaching. You can go to the best schools with the best teachers and learn jackshit, which I think is the case with most Indian schools to start with. We’re not curious enough. It kind of struck me. As students in India, we’re very badly raised. We’re raised to be scared of failure. We’re raised to answer questions in the way that is prescribed. That’s such a bad environment to build any sort of creative thought. I’ve been very disillusioned with this “college chaapa” mindset. “Oh, he went to Berklee, he must be good”. That doesn’t fly with me. I need to know what his record sounds like to see if he’s really good.

Was it always the plan to come back home from the UK and set up a studio?

No, actually. Part of me wanted to go learn production so that I could cut my own records, but it was also because I wanted to get the fuck away from Bombay. It had gotten really depressing. Like I said, I was very disillusioned with Bombay and the music scene in general. I was so done with the way musicians were functioning here, the way festival organizers were functioning here and the way artist managers were functioning here. It was a huge fucking mess. I felt that if I had the opportunity to go to the UK and not come back, why would I? But then looking back at India , I couldn’t just ignore the opportunities that were present back home. Had I stayed in the UK, I would have had to start at the very bottom of the ladder. Find a studio I could work in, become an assistant engineer, then maybe get promoted, convince artists to entrust me with their work, and so on. I wasn’t sure if I was happy with having such limited opportunities in the UK. The opportunity in India was to set up your own studio, cut your teeth the hard way by jumping into the deep end, not having someone mentor you and to diversify. I can literally do anything I want with this space.

What were the first few artists you recorded when you came back?

In the Brightest Corners by Awkward Bong was the first record I cut after coming back. I was lucky to have that be my first record, you know, as a rookie. The thing about audio school is you spend one year there, and then come into the real world, and the learning curve only steepens. I was really lucky to have such a project because it was hardcore production. I could dictate a lot. I could dictate the chord movements, I could dictate the rhythm section. I could really say: hey, do this, delete that, cut that verse in half. Like really hands-on production.

For me when a person writes a song, it isn’t the sound of the kick drum or the beat. It’s the chords, the lyrics, the melody and the general rhythmic vibe. Now what makes a SONG for me, in big block letters, which is released to the world and makes people feel things, is a combination of really good songwriting and sensible production that complements the songwriting. With the Awkward Bong record, Ronit had enough trust in me to run riot. Sonically, it’s an amateur record, being my first record out of audio school and everything, but the songs were really great and we worked very hard on fleshing them out.

So one of your songs with BLEK, “Fog + Strobe” got a slight makeover and was rechristened as” Byomkesh in Love”, featured in the movie Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! Were you happy with the way that turned out and the experience in general?

Working with Dibakar was pretty great. He always said: if you don’t want to do something, don’t do it. Initially he wanted me to add on this Hindi thumri to the song and I was extremely hesitant. But after I got to listen to it and know the meaning of what was being sung, I was completely on board. I felt like it fit. He wanted a version of the song for the film that went with the visuals of a particular scene, which I found to be a very challenging project. When this person rolled over the table in the action scene, Dibakar wanted a drum roll or toms to replace your traditional sound effects.

So, we were sitting down with him, looking at the scene and producing accordingly, while keeping in mind that it should sound great even as a standalone song. Once he had his shot for the film, he let me have full control over the version of the song that went out on Apple Music and the like. The version that’s out on YouTube or whatever is the version that we wanted and were happy with. Now that’s a good way to work!

What’s BLEK up to now and more importantly, what’s Rishi the musician upto now?

I’d prefer not to divulge premature details. You’ll know when it’s done I guess. *goes on to divulge juicy secrets off the record*

This started out as chat about your musical journey but you were able to turn it into a lesson in life. It was great talking to you man.

Right so to wrap things up, we have a bunch of rapid fire questions we do with all our guests.

Favourite Indian artist right now?

None. I’m serious. I have much higher standards and expectations of Indian artists and we WILL get there!

Pick one of the two you can’t live without: delay or reverb.

I can’t live without delay. I can make delay sound like reverb but not the other way around.

Drink of choice.

It’s usually vodka but now I’m switching to Stranger & Sons gin.

One gig that’s left a permanent mark on you.

This sounds narcissistic but it’s the gig we played with the Lightyears at one of the earlier Ctrl + Alt + Del festivals, at B69.

Three Desert Island discs for when you’re stranded on an island.

  1. Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino by the Arctic Monkeys and let me tell you why. TBH&C is a beautiful record. It has all these tiny, beautiful things that are so “fuck you”.
  2. Sea Change by Beck, without a doubt. He is a rare, beautiful artist. A hero of mine.
  3. A Moon Shaped Pool by Radiohead. It’s actually quite hard to pick a Radiohead record.

Monthly Playlist: Apr. 2019

2 May

We’re back with another edition of the Monthly Playlist! This month’s songs range from Los Angeles lo-fi to Japanese indie rock and more – read on for all the deets.

5. “38’s” by The Vanities

“38’s”, by Glaswegian garage punk band The Vanities, is a whiskey-soaked vignette about drunken nights that last so late you miss the bus back home (ostensibly, the 38 in Glasgow). Within the first few seconds, Vanities drummer Craig Fellowes bursts in at a frenetic pace that never quite lets off over the song’s entire three-minute mark – but don’t let the percussion overwhelm you. The winning element here is the Vanities’ ability to paint a witty, entertaining picture of an inebriated evening. “Wasteland sights, apart from prozzies and rubble / Thirty quid for the night, far from subtle, she’s trouble / I’m coming down now, I wish I’d made my vodka a double,” goes the tune, perfectly encapsulating that no-man’s-land age between late teens and early adulthood (the band’s four members are all in their early twenties).

If you get the feeling that the Vanities’ experiences are cut from the same cloth as the gin-soaked, unsuccessful-clubbing escapades that shaped Arctic Monkeys’ debut album, you are absolutely right. There is a lot more to anticipate from the Vanities, and we are here for it.

4. “Why’d You Have to Act Like That Though” by Inner Wave

Why’d You Have to Act Like That Though”, by LA-based five-piece Inner Wave, is a chill, lo-fi psych rock track that brings to mind a mix of Mac de Marco and Lonerism-era Tame Impala. The track starts off with a slightly off-kilter melody, layered under spoken-word musings in the style of Julian Casablancas (it’s no accident – the five bandmates apparently grew up listening to the Strokes in the early aughts). Seamlessly, lead singer Pablo Sotelo melts into a hypnotic, repeated chorus – “I’ve been missing you, I’ve been missing you, I swear”; and before you know it, the song’s over. It’s loopy, lo-fi and catchy as hell, and had us pressing the replay button more than a few times. Be sure to keep an eye out for Inner Wave’s upcoming album, wyd, out on May 17.

3. “This Life” by Vampire Weekend

By this point, Vampire Weekend have an unmistakable sound to them. Whether it’s Ezra Koenig’s earnest voice, the Beach Boys-esque pleasantness of the guitars, or the harmonic choral elements, it is fairly straightforward to pick out a Vampire Weekend song from any random lineup. On “This Life”, from the upcoming album Father of the Bride, Vampire Weekend takes their cornucopia of congeniality to a gloomy tale of broken dreams. “Baby, I know pain is as natural as the rain / I just thought it didn’t rain in California,” sings Koenig, hiding the darkness behind a veneer of jangly Americana. It gets worse: “You’ve been cheating on, cheating on me / I’ve been cheating on, cheating on you,” he confesses a few lines later. With its genial music and its weighty lyrics, “This Life” is a great tune that works across two very different angles. Highly recommend this song and album.

Father of the Bride is out on May 3.

2. “Pretty Old Man” by No Buses

No Buses are a Japanese indie rock band heavily influenced by the 2000s garage rock revival sound. Of course, they aren’t the first with that set of influences. It’s easy enough to write a simple, easygoing tune, but what really surprises the listener about No Buses is their ability to create an instant earworm. On “Pretty Old Man”, No Buses weave a love story with at least one geriatric participant, in between roving guitar riffs and steady-as-can-be drums. The result is an earnest homage to the likes of early Arctic Monkeys (even down to the band’s name) and Oasis without coming off too saccharine. A tough feat, but one that No Buses manage well. We’re excited to hear more from them soon.

1. “Power is Power” by SZA, The Weeknd and Travis Scott

Ten years from now, in the annals of pop culture history, April 2019 will be heralded as an historic month, for two book-to-Technicolor transformations: the end of Marvel’s Avengers comic book saga with Endgame, and the final season of the record-busting Game of Thrones. For GoT fans who want to augment their visual and cinematic experiences, the TV show released For the Thrones, a soundtrack inspired by the characters and thematic elements onscreen. “Power is Power”, featuring three of the world’s biggest stars, is an ode to the reluctant hero of the entire series – Jon Snow.

What we love about this track are the interlocking yet distinct contributions from the three featured artists. The Weeknd’s echoing beats bring to mind his chart-topping “Pray for Me” from the Black Panther soundtrack, but his lyrics are far-removed from the African savannah of Wakanda. “I was born of the ice and snow / With the winter wolves and the dark alone,” he sings; a perfect battle hymn for the oft-wallowing Jon. SZA knocks it out of the park with a fluid, strong verse that further explores the self-doubt / heroism clash within Jon’s psyche. And Travis Scott, as usual, switches it up with a verse that contrasts but complements the rest of the song.

All in all, “Power is Power” is a treat whether you’re a Game of Thrones fan or not.

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