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Experimental Perverteres: A Conversation with Begum

22 Jul

Photo courtesy Anika Mehta.

New Delhi-based Begum are the most exciting band we’ve heard this year. Two members of the band, Karthik Pillai and Karan Singh, are from the gypsy/cabaret/indie act Peter Cat Recording Company. With Begum, their unmistakable Peter Cat madness is flavored with bassist Kshitij Dhyani’s masterful touch of elegance. It’s a perfect combination.

It’s no wonder, then, that their lead single “Waiting” is such a stunning debut. Karthik syncs his trance-like guitar groove perfectly with his melancholy singing. Karan’s drumming breathes inside delicate spaces as well as it drives segues between different phrases. Kshitij’s basswork is understated and moody, and all the more indispensable for it. The lyrics are poetic enough to feel the song’s melancholy and mysterious enough to add your own imagination to it.


Top Five Records had the chance to have a little chat with this promising young band from the country’s capital. What transpired next was a mad, strangely thought-provoking affair, much like the band itself. Read for yourself:

Top Five Records: Let’s start with the basics. Why Begum? What’s behind the name?

Begum: The name Begum is a tribute to the Queen Preeto, who reigned during the 5th century of Salil Ankola in Noida Sector 18. During her reign, hipsters, indie musicians and other things you can find at dollar stores were given a special place in her court. Her patronage towards Chinese artifacts and other things without a future beyond six months inspired us to come together and produce music with the shelf life of a Durian.

TFR: What pulled you together to form Begum?

Begum: Two smugglers Kshitij and Kartik were caught illegally transporting guitar riffs across the border. During interrogation, they conceded their guilt and were summoned to deliver a bribe in the court of the Begum. While presenting their bounty to the all-knowing Begum, they accidentally hit a set of sacred occult notes. One of the Begum’s guards, Karan, ran to stop them and, before anyone could notice, they were transported to an alternate universe. Now the three men have joined forces to jam until they find the correct set of notes to go back home.

TFR: When did you guys first get into music? What did you grow up listening to?

Begum: We grew up listening to Government propaganda, still our favorite when we need to kick off them blues about our future or where this country is headed. We got into music to prolong this dreamy, blissful, ignorance-fuelled state of oblivion and share the perils with our concerned friends, relatives and parents. Our music comes recommended as the best background score for an intervention by one in four psychologists in Nangloi area of Delhi.

TFR: Tell us a little bit about your single “Waiting”. What’s the story behind it?

Begum: The brain has been flooded by the discharge of the pineal gland cutting off all connections to the body and leaving the brain in complete awareness of its descent into numbness. In the song, the individual is having flashbacks and is viewing himself/herself in second person and third person as he/she slides into death and emerges as free energy, alive and malleable with a certain amount of consciousness. In one word: transcendence.

TFR: Most of your online presence features the image of a lady wading into the ocean. Does the image have any particular symbolism?

Begum: That image was artwork for our single “Waiting” and made sense somehow in context with the song. It has now been changed to the artwork for our new single “Chinbien”, which is being exclusively launched by Wild City. These are Top Secret archival images of rejected ideas for a personality makeover media campaign for one of the top Indian politico-crats, rejected on the grounds of being too nauseatingly humane.

Photo courtesy Begum.

Photo courtesy Begum.

TFR: There’s a certain dreamy melodrama in your music that few other artists in India can attempt, let alone pull off so perfectly. What inspires you to create this very unique style of music?

Begum: It’s a natural state of being, we suppose, the slow motion (as slight as it may be) effect is something we appreciate. But we think this question is best answered by the following quote by former British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, delivered in 1878 while delivering a speech in reference to his liberal rival and famous orator William Ewart Gladstone in the Parliament of the United Kingdom

“You see the whole country of the system is juxtapositioned by the hemoglobin in the atmosphere because you are a sophisticated rhetorician intoxicated by the exuberance of your own verbosity.”

TFR: On a similar note: we think that the music you guys make would be best suited for a particular sort of pensive, elegant atmosphere. What would be your ideal gig venue?

Begum: Parliament of the sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic, republic of Akagarma. A Golden Pillared Opera house along with an orchestra and an immersive and subjectively responsive lighting and visual setup. Globes radiating sound and the warmth of sound pressure levels, tinted audio generators pulsing and rushing through the crowd.

TFR: The video for your new track “Chinbien” features a surreal series of imagery and video clips. How important are visuals to the end product of your music?

Begum: While browsing the Internet to solve the mystery of feline dominance, our video director Samridhi Thapliyal was stuck by a sudden and deeply saddening inquisition. What if aliens are trying to establish communication with us but their mode of communication lies outside of the aural and visual abilities of a common Honey Singh fan? So, to extend a hand of friendship and a proposal for a symbiotic relationship with the dimensions outside of human experience, the music video has been a humble attempt. It is a short catalogue of what aliens should expect to see on a vacation trip to Earth, which Samridhi expects to be picked up by the tourism department of our planet someday.


TFR: If your music had to be slotted between two albums of any language and any genre, which two would it be?

Begum: We would be forced to slot our upcoming album “Begum Bagh” between the available recordings of broadcast from “Phoney Wars” and a spoken word album of all of Alfred Jarry’s work, synchronized to free jazz and Altaf Rajas Alaaps.

TFR: Tell us one artist (Indian or international) that you’d most love to work with.

Begum: Tony Clifton

TFR: When can we expect the Begum album?

Begum: The Begum album will be out by August followed by a tour and one more music video coming up as well somewhere after that. Also we are in the process of composing an Indian Opera, hopefully debuting it sometime next year.

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On the Radar: David Abraham

8 Apr

David Abraham 2

The video for David Abraham’s “This Time Around” (see below) starts off with an intriguing black and white slo-mo drama about a young kid caught in the crossfire of a hostile home situation. Cut to a full-color drama of his parents making up: him with apology writ across his face, her accepting a red flower to match her blouse. Our young protagonist, however, is symbolically behind bars, helpless in his knowledge that the good parts always lead to worse ones. Pushed about and ignored in the dysfunction, he runs away, an act that – in the end – miraculously brings his parents together.

While the video itself is captivating enough to show promise, it’s actually the music that we want to talk about. On “This Time Around” (listen here), David Abraham a.k.a. The Koniac Net possesses an angsty voice that, while not new in alternative rock, is crafted with a precise balance of emotion. We really like his lyrics, too: carefully-refined anguish that focuses smartly on aesthetics as much as artistic intent. (“Last time to get all this right/Last try: please let me save your life/Even if it breaks my world apart/Even it if means we’ll tear apart,” he sings. We’re sold.) Neat little drum flourishes and some emotive guitarwork provide the tapestry for his vocals, and the end result is pretty darn listenable. Think Hoobastank with less self-importance, or the French Kicks with a little more vigor; all with a dash of Alice in Chains or Mudhoney, whatever floats your boat. Abraham’s music is kind of like “a mixtape for the indie music fan”, as he claims on the Bandcamp page.

“This time, I’m going to make it right,” sings Abraham on the opening lines of the song. Well, in our opinion, he’s done it pretty well the first time.

David Abraham

David Abraham performs under the moniker The Koniac Net (for reasons we are not entirely sure of, as it seems to be composed entirely of him). “This Time Around” is the first official video single release from his debut album One Last Monsoon. The music video is the work of UK-based Karakoori Productions. Check out Abraham’s Bandcamp page for more songs.

Special thanks to Hari Menon Photography for the brilliant images.

Oceans Apart: A Chat with Nischay Parekh

25 Mar
A man and his guitar

A man and his guitar

Nischay Parekh, 19, hails from Calcutta, a functioning chaos of a city famous (or infamous) for its poets and prose; a city that seems to have certainly rubbed off on the young singer-songwriter. We recently had the chance to listen to “I Love You Baby, I Love You Doll”, the spectacular first single from his debut Ocean. It’s a mix of 50s nostalgia and the breeze that causes the leaves to sway on a summer’s day, that hasn’t been heard since this side of an uncharacteristically mature John Mayer. Nischay’s better than Mayer, though, in our honest opinion.

A classic pop voice, burred with just a hint of heartbreak, is not the only thing in Nischay’s arsenal. The man seems to be a pro at the kind of graceful strumming that engender pretty pop ditties, and he has got quite the handy quill, too. If that wasn’t enough of a fix, you can check out more of his stuff on his SoundCloud, which features more than a dozen and a half brilliant, sometimes-glitchy-mostly-pop songs – including a pensive, stripped-down cover of “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley that would put The Weeknd to shame.

A talent like this does not go unnoticed. Nischay played at the Bangalore edition of the Weekender last year, and shared stage space with none other than Norah Jones at the recent A Summer’s Day festival in Mumbai. India is rather inundated with its share of music festivals at the moment: there’s a new one mushrooming in every cognizant pocket of the country. It’s a world of ‘hear and be heard’ like never before out there, depending on whether you’re the audience or the artist.  The following is our humble attempt to connect these two sides of the spectrum. Top Five readers, meet Nischay Parekh.

Top Five Records: Hello, Nischay! We’re very honored to have you here with us today. Let’s start from the basics. Why music? How did this whole thing begin?

Nischay Parekh: Music started for me when I was 16 years old. I was taking ‘’recreational’ guitar lessons for a few years before that.  It was around that time that I started writing songs, and I really began to enjoy the process of building a song from scratch. It was like Lego, except the blocks were pieces of my own imagination. Once I began writing and playing more seriously I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

TFR: What did you grow up listening to?

NP: My mother had a very interesting collection of cassettes and CDs. There was a lot of cheesy stuff like Rod Stewart, Geri Halliwell (ex spice girl), but then there was also some great stuff that had a bigger impact on me like Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and Nat King Cole. The sound that came out of our old “deck” (yes that’s what they were called, CD and Cassette player!) has probably left a bigger impression than I care to admit. A lot of it is subconscious, of course.  I was lucky enough to have grown up with a lot of the ‘good stuff’.

TFR: Tell us about your first few bands. We understand your naming patterns for bands have an affinity for Kingdom Animalia.

NP: I have band in Kolkata called “The MonkeyinMe”. There are four of us. It basically consists of very close friends of mine that I started playing music with in school.  All of us are a little spread out geographically at the moment so it’s hard to put out material frequently. However, we are in it for the long run. A future MonkeyinMe album is definitely on the cards.

Then there was this group I was a part of in Boston called “Orange, the Panda”. I do have a fascination of animals and the general element of mysticism. Maybe it’s because I never had a pet?

Cover for Nischay's album

Cover for Nischay’s album

TFR: So we hear your upcoming debut album Ocean is being produced by someone who has done similar honors for the likes of Madonna and Radiohead [London-based Miti Adhikari]. Not bad for a debut! Has having Miti around changed your song-writing or music-making process in any way?

NP: Miti has been great. I am really fortunate that he was interested in working with me. Having him around has brought a lot of clarity and coherence to my music. I had all these songs and Ideas, which were flying around like loose pages. Miti has definitely helped me bind those pages into a book of sorts. He’s been a real collaborator on this album. Added to all this he’s really on top of his game as an engineer. So it’s been a great experience.

TFR: If you had to be sorted into a record collection based on similarity, which two albums would Ocean be slotted between?

NP: The Reminder by Feist and Plans by Death cab for Cutie. I’m probably giving myself more credit than I deserve, those two are great albums and I love them!

TFR: What kind of themes can we expected to be touched upon in your debut? Do you intend it to be a musical culmination of your nineteen years of life, or is the time frame shorter?

NP: Ocean is a collection of dreams I’ve had. I write exclusively about animals and relationships. It is definitely a culmination of my entire life. It’s full of mysticism. I enjoy the paradox between very ‘real’ human emotions and these stories that I tell with animals as central characters.

TFR: It’s always very interesting to know the kind of things that inspire each individual musician. What’s your trade secret(s)?

NP: I’m attracted most to design. The music I love most always has its own specific aesthetic.  I love creating a vibe and designing music that can live well in that world.

TFR: Congratulations on your success at A Summer’s Day! Word is that your performance gained you a legion of fans that day – quite a few of them being female, of course. What was it like to share the bill with Norah Jones? 

NP: It was a great concert. The audience was great. You can always tell when they’re really listening, and they were! The atmosphere was so relaxed yet charged with infectious positive energy.

TFR: What’s it like to be at Berklee? [Nischay is a current student at the prestigious music school.] Is Ocean different from how you imagined it before you got into Berklee?

NP: Berklee is a temple for music. Everyone and everything there inspires you. I’ve really learned the mechanics of music after spending time there. This has helped my music immensely, a lot of songs on Ocean were written in Boston during my first (and only) semester there.

TFR: Who’s one artist (Indian or international) that you’d give your right hand to work with right now?

NP: Leslie Feist and all her wonderful friends from Canada!

TFR: Give our readers one reason why they absolutely must listen to Ocean.

NP: It’s a happy album and it’s about love. Best reason in the world.

So there you have it. We are waiting with bated breath for Nischay’s debut album, and with this article we hope you are, too. 

Sky Rabbit: “Anti-Coke Ganpati”

11 Jul

The name of the song is ‘Anti-Coke Ganpati’? Are they a rare species of anti-drug musicians? Or are they just being ironic?’  

Searching for good Indian rock music usually involves sifting through piles of amateurish metal drivel and wannabe alternative/indie bands still searching for their own sound to reach those isolated pockets of unique, memorable music.  However, when one comes across a band like Sky Rabbit, the tiresome search sometimes seems worth it.

Formerly known as Medusa, this electronic post-punk band from Mumbai consists of Raxit (Vocals/Samples), Rahul (Guitar/Samples), Siddharth (Bass) and Harsh (Drums). Fusing electronica with conventional instruments, the band claims to have stumbled upon a unique style and sound. What is remarkable, however, is the way they have perfected this style in their very first album (Sky Rabbit, January 2012). We feel that there are only a few bands in India that manage to sound as spontaneous and self-assured right from their debut.

One thing we quite liked about this song was the intriguing title: most ‘rockers’ would never use the word ‘anti’ in the same sentence as a drug name (much less utter it in the same breath). We’ve determined that the title is either pedantic or, of course, ironic.

So we like the song. Should you listen to it? Let’s break it down.

Pros:

The ambience. The song kicks off with a sampled loop of pleasant, airy electronic, but by the time the drums and vocals kick in a couple of bars later, the song has settled into a soothing, rather lazy groove. Raxit’s deadpan baritone perfectly complements the sampled music and the steady rhythm guitar to set a drowsy, rather heady tone. The bass playing is minimalistic yet tasteful, and the drumming is tight. It is perhaps slightly ironic that a song with an anti-drug stance in its title creates a mood akin to what a stoner would feel after a particularly long session.

The loops. The song follows a slightly unusual chorus-verse-chorus pattern, with an interesting interlude. A few other sequenced samples are layered on top from time to time. My personal favourite is the last sampled loop in the song. As the instruments fade out, sequenced sounds which conjure up images of a Nintendo 8-bit game involving spaceships, play out till the end.

Cons:

Words. The lyrics are slightly puzzling, though. Riddance of blasphemy, idealistic presidential candidates, and the power-hunger of the same idealistic candidates all make an appearance. At one point, the band seems to be taking a dig at our current President (maybe). For a lot of the song, it’s unclear whether the band is going for something lyrically profound, or nonsensical filler words. The title, albeit intriguing, is gibberish as well: does it represent a demi-god figure with an anti-drug stance, or is it, along with a few other words in the interlude, a part of the musings of a stoned rambler? We’ll never know.

The musicianship. In that, no outstanding example of it is displayed in this song, and for that matter, on this album. There are no remarkable instrumental solos or mind-blowing vocals, and it will be interesting to see how the band fares when the novelty of their music fades.

Verdict:

For the moment, Sky Rabbit seems to have hit a purple patch with a unique and refreshingly original style and sound. The trippy ‘March’ and the brilliant ‘I Become I’ are other tracks worth checking out on the album. Even though there is no amazing technical ability on display, the band has a distinctive and impressive style and sound, which they’ll hopefully hold on to in the coming years, while continuing to grow and evolve.

Sky Rabbit plays TOMORROW at Delhi’s Hard Rock Cafe. You should check them out if you’re in the vicinity.

– Soumyadipto

Kaav: “Thee”

29 Jun

 

Kaav, Kerala’s own three-piece instrumental band, makes me truly excited to be a music listener in India today. In an industry where Indian-influenced rock has little real identity, Syam Pai (guitars) Shabeer Ali (bass) and Arun Kumar (drums) manage to stand out. It’s not difficult to imagine the group lying around on Vypin island on a stormy Sunday afternoon, making musical magic against the background of Kerala’s heavenly atmosphere. To witness this magic, look no further than “Thee,” a single from Kaav’s latest aptly named album Raphsody of Rains (produced with the help of Indian legend Baiju Dharmajan and Cochym Records).

“Thee,” means fire in Malayalam, and according to Kaav “represents the inner fire or the inner strength of humans that gets unleashed in different ways.” The song captures the essence of this strength perfectly, and constantly has throwbacks to the images brought up by the album’s title itself. It’s impossible to listen to the initial bars of the song without thinking of the first few smatterings of raindrops on a cloudy, thunder-filled day. The track starts up with a mood-setting clean guitar strum, accompanied by a low, warm, ringing bassnote and syncopated six-beat hat rhythm; slowly, the mood shifts as the music develops into a harder sound. Softly distorted guitars show up, with gorgeously melodic guitar and bass riffs. The song gradually builds up, but chooses to delay its breaking point – instead, we segue into a beautiful spoken-word excerpt from legendary film maker John Abraham’s “Amma Ariyan.” The critical point happens only after this, and remains wonderfully understated.  The song is then gradually brought back down to earth by a lone, squealing, wavering electric guitar note.

The song’s music video is a piece of art in its own right. Excerpts of Abraham’s film are interspersed in black-and-white with muted-colour clips of the band performing, in an artsy move that never crosses the line into pretentiousness.

Verdict: Kaav represent everything that the Indian music scene has to be hopeful about. Their music retains every inch of their Malayalli heritage, incorporates enough western influence to be accessible to a wider audience, and has a universality to it that cements it as a work of art.
Sidebar: Go check out Kaav’s website. It is *beautiful.*

Spud in the Box: “54”

27 Jun

“54”, a song from fresh new Bombay band Spud in the Box, is the musical version of a double-take. The song starts off ridiculously upbeat: a sparkly, summery ditty of a man with a fondness for pretty legs and juicy kiwi (albeit mysteriously with a shrink in the picture). By the time the chorus kicks in, still California-sunny, the lyrics veer into hypothetical stalking, seemingly in an obsessive, puppy-love vein of things. Alright. Quirky, but not abnormal.
But pretty soon after that, things veer sharply left of centre. Hypothetical stalking turns into imagined, deranged conversations with Dr. Phil. Then the story pans out to include a mental asylum, a car trunk stuffed with his crush’s boyfriend and – you guessed it – a serial killer’s knife in hand. You have to listen to the final lines of the song to understand what the ’54’ here signifies, although you might guess it. Either way, the contrast of the overt morbidity in the song and the outrageously sunny music (How sunny? It could work as the background for a Go Goa TV ad. Seriously.) is really something to look out for.
Mind you, this entire panorama of morbidity happens as a mere backdrop to the caefree, sunshine music. Imagine Cake singing about serial killers. Or Jason Mraz providing the soundtrack to Silence of the Lambs.
Spud in the Box recently signed on to The Random Dream Project, a brand-new record label (launched May 31st, 2012) that hopes to be a one-stop shop for India’s best indie talent. If all artists are as good as Spud in the Box prove to be on this track, we’re very excited indeed to see that this label puts out.
Verdict: As you can see, we’ve got nothing but good things to say about this track. Listen, listen, listen! We love this folk-rock band.

– Neeharika

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