Fireboy DML – APOLLO

15 Oct

Nigeria is fast becoming a music powerhouse on the international stage. Fireboy DML makes it clear from the beginning that this is something you should be paying attention to. “Champion” starts APOLLO with a silky-smooth tone and then mixes in African themes. It also just means more to hear someone claim themselves a champion in Nigerian patois.

Those Nigerian inflections work well through the album. Songs like “Spell” and “Sound” are catchy, toe-tapping music but would have had nothing more to offer were it not for the Afrobeats elevating them. Meanwhile, “Shadé” has an interesting beat, but that gets completely overshadowed by the textured vocals of the songs. It’s an absolute stand-out and a strong pitch for stardom.

However, Fireboy’s other shots for the big stage miss more than they hit. “God Only Knows” is the outtake that even the direct-for-TV Lion King movies wouldn’t accept. While “Friday Feeling” is nice and upbeat and fun to listen to, it’s very shallow and doesn’t even stick to you when it’s playing. “Remember Me” ends the album on a similarly forgettable note.

When everything clicks for Fireboy though, APOLLO is a solid achievement. It may have flaws, but this is a signature moment for Nigerian music and another reason to be excited about what is to come.

Jyoti – Mama, You Can Bet!

11 Oct

You only get an album like this once or twice a year. It’s no mean accomplishment to make music this varied and Jyoti makes it with consummate skill. She skims across genres without a ripple, selecting pieces to meld into an album wholly her own. 

She’s at her best in pieces like “This Walk.” It’s a slow, meandering song, but one where every path is interesting and filled with tiny, rewarding diversions. It’s very laid back, but so dense with thought that it’s very compelling nonetheless. It takes the ambient sounds that she uses throughout the album and cuts it to great effect with the clarity and jaggedness of her voice.

The serrated songs do well. “Ra’s Noise” is similarly jagged and unexpected, but moves further into jazz with a prominent and energetic saxophone. The barbed funk of “Hard Bap Duke” is noteworthy in the same way. This is not to disparage the other tracks here. The traditional jazz of “Swing, Kirikou, Swing” and the ambient of “Quarrys, Quarries” are both very good and the screeching guitar in “The Cowrie Waltz” is fascinating. However, while “Bemoanable Lady Geemix” is interesting for feeling like something out of a hip-hop producer’s album and makes for good background listening, it’s a little shallow. “Ancestral Duckets” is similarly listenable, but could have used more thought.

Mama, You Can Bet ends up with a lot going for it. The range and ability on display here is astonishing. A couple of the pieces here fall short of what one would hope and there’s no single piece that truly stands out, but those are minor blemishes in an album of excellent quality and singular execution.

Top Five Lo-Fi Indie Rock Songs I Keep Coming Back To

5 Oct

I’m a sucker for a certain style of art. I love books by Kazuo Ishiguro and David Mazzucchelli. I love Machinarium and Old Man’s Journey. I loved the animated movie L’Illusioniste. I also love lo-fi indie rock records.

I love the gentleness and the intelligence and the melancholy. I love the quiet and the lack of hurry and the sincerity. I love the way they feel. And with this list, I’m going to give you 5 (plus a bonus) of the ones I love the most.

Honorable Mention. Sufjan Stevens – Should Have Known Better

This is a delicate, gossamer track. Sufjan’s singing is a caress and that softness animates the track. It’s a very hazy, very ambiguous track and that’s key to the whole aesthetic. You don’t want full sentences or a full story.  The  empty space is the point. This is magical realism as music.

That gentleness and obscurity accentuate the melancholy of the music. The title tells you the emotion that the song wants to convey, but by itself, it would be flat. The attraction of this music is in the texture. It’s in pushing a feeling that you can’t pin down, but can only hint at. He sings “I should have known better / Nothing can be changed / The past is still the past / The bridge to nowhere / I should have wrote a letter / Explaining what I feel, that empty feeling” but his voice doesn’t carry regret, but lightness instead. It’s accepting of what has happened, not recriminating. Melancholy doesn’t have to hurt.

5. Girlpool – Chinatown

This is still lo-fi, still indie, but this is a track with an edge to it. Where “Should Have Known Better” is soft and gentle, this is a track that’s not shy about its pain. It’s a misfit’s song and so sharp it cut itself. “I’m still looking for sureness in the way I say my name” is a razor blade and the loud of “I am nervous for tomorrow and today” after the soft of the chorus has all of the emotion of Nirvana but with millennial anxiety instead of 90s angst and “If I loved myself, would I take it the wrong way” is a line both painfully smart and just painful.

4. Ghostpoet – Meltdown

Ghostpoet may not be the most traditional pick for a list like this, but “Meltdown” hits all the right notes for inclusion. It’s the sadness of a missed opportunity and of the gap between knowing that you should act and acting itself. It’s a hazy and indeterminate song, it doesn’t feel like any particular moment, but instead of a period that blends together in memory into a singular feeling.

It’s also strikingly urban in a genre that’s typically small-town. Normally, these songs are situated in a suburb that’s easily painted sepia, but this song feels like I walk I once took at 2AM in San Francisco as things fell apart. It was cold and the mist muddled the brightness of the streetlights and passing cars and the blurriness contrasted with the sharp, wet pinpricks of the air outside. It’s every bit as cinematic as anything else on here, but with a very different palette and for all of its differences, it holds all the same quality.

3. The National – I Need My Girl

You cannot write a list like this without The National. They’re the poster child of this kind of cinematic melancholy. Indeed, movies of this ilk turn immediately to the National for a reason. I was tempted to pick “Pull of You” or “I Am Easy To Find” off their latest album instead of this track. I Am Easy To Find took the giant step forward of adding female vocalists to their track and so balancing out their biggest flaw, their preoccupation with themselves.

It is for that preoccupation that I picked this track though, to highlight that clear single point of view that so typifies the genre. It’s in choosing self-flagellation over making amends. It’s in how the fault was his and yet he is still centered in the song.  He needs his girl.

That inability to understand animates the song though. This is the music of having made a mistake and being the kind of person who can’t fix it. Were it not for the delicate skill of the music, this song would be nothing, but instead it is the perfect distillation of the wistfulness of past wrongs.

2. Speedy Ortiz – No Below

I spent months singing the chorus of this song over and over again. I didn’t even sing the full thing, just “I was better off just being dead / Better off just being dead.” There’s something about the tone of Sadie Dupuis as she sings that I cannot resolve in my mind and so it sticks to me. Her singing is sweet and rough and jars so sharply against the song’s content, which in turn is so clearly enunciated that you cannot miss a single word and which itself communicates fatigue so cleanly.

Sometimes, things change you and you just stay changed. Some things are permanent. Sometimes, you can have all of the pieces you need to be happy, but you’re just not a person who can be happy in the way you used to be. It’s just not in your range anymore.

The distortion at the end of the song is everything here. The song is built on some very efficient storytelling. It’s honest, vivid narrative all the way through, and then the vocals stop and the guitar’s screech gives you some space for your own thoughts, and as this song describes, there are few better ways to lacerate.

1. Better Oblivion Community Center – Service Road

I’ve written a lot about things like magical realism and cinematic qualities in this list, but no song does that better than “Service Road.” It’s exceptionally clever and that results in truly excellent storytelling. “Asking strangers to forgive him / But he never told them what it is / He did to them that made him feel so bad” is evocative and open-ended and so the best of what the genre has to offer. Truly excellent melancholy is not mere sadness nor mere self-reproach, but needs the intelligence both to trap the singer and to enthrall the listener.

The comes through in the music as well. The simple, effective guitar frames the vocals very well and gives them space to be gentle, human and regretful. Where some of the other songs here have jagged edges, this one slips into you without a ripple and never leaves. I do wish that it had more Phoebe Bridgers though.

It ends on such an open note though. It ends with motion, with the feeling of freedom. Maybe that’s the only way for these to end. These are stories about life and there are no true conclusions there. Things go on.

The sharpness of a regret is not in it happening, but in living with it having happened, but maybe there’s a second side to that. It’s not in redemption or in self-improvement or forgiveness. It’s not even in having a fresh start. It’s just that tomorrow exists. It’s not a new day or a fresh page and it can’t change what happened today, but it still exists, both as blessing and as curse.

Monthly Playlist: Sep. 2020

3 Oct

September 2020 saw the release of a surprise Fleet Foxes album, a much-awaited IDLES follow-up, emphatic returns from the likes of Alicia Keys and Sufjan Stevens, and lots more. Read on for our picks of the top five songs from the month that was.

5. “Love’s Gone Bad” from the Jaded Hearts Club

The Jaded Hearts Club is a supergroup featuring the who’s who of early aughts indie rock. Nic Crester from Jet and Miles Kane from the Last Shadow Puppets share vocal duties, with instrumentation from Muse’s Matt Bellamy (bass), Blur’s Graham Coxon (guitar) and a few other friends. Their music, as the obvious reference to Sgt. Pepper’s suggests, is a mix of these members’ indie rock sensibilities essentially converging into a Beatles tribute band. “Love’s Gone Bad” from early September features classic rock riffs and an energetic Lennon-esque presence from Kane. If you liked the Beatles and/or any of these gentlemen’s bands, it’s likely you’ll like this tune. Incidentally, the Jaded Hearts Club released their debut album You’ve Always Been Here just today, so be sure to check that out if you liked this track.

4. “FRANCHISE” by Travis Scott, feat. Young Thug and M.I.A.

You can recognize a Travis Scott beat anywhere. The dull boom of a thick bass line, paired with hypnotic notes and his lilting flow, became a signature on the well-received Astroworld, and it’s no different here. “FRANCHISE” sucks you right in – not just because of this things, but also because of a fantastic early chime-in from the one-and-only M.I.A. The British-Sri Lankan rapper holds her own with Scott and Young Thug, especially on her onomatopoeic turns with Sheck Wes (yes, he’s on here too). All in all, this is a slick and talent-heavy single from Travis Scott and friends – give it a spin.

3. “War” by IDLES

IDLES, much like their Irish counterparts Fontaines D.C., are key drivers of the rock scene across the pond these days. The British punk band has enjoyed widespread acclaim with striking debut Brutalism and equally-hard-hitting sophomore album Joy As An Act of Resistance. They returned this month with third album Ultra Mono, of which “War” is the opener. And open it does. The song hits like a shot of adrenaline, with brutal drumming that’s inter-cut with relentless guitar riffs. Despite lasting just about three minutes, “War” gives you a feel for senseless battle, from the mentions of Johnny and Sally being sent to their deaths right down to the explicit sound of a sword going in.

2. “Turntables” by Janelle Monae

We didn’t know this before, but apparently Amazon has funded an election-year, straight-to-Prime documentary called All In: The Fight For Democracy. While the thought of a Jeff Bezos vehicle talking about the fight for democracy in the context of billionaire-ridden modern-day America is a dubious proposition (to say the least), we can’t ignore this great track from multi-faceted legend Janelle Monae. The actress-singer-LGBTQ-icon here serves a rousing, patriotic ode to civil rights, liberties and all that the America-of-yore stood for: “I’m kicking out the old regime / Liberation, elevation, education / America, you a lie / But the whole world ’bout to testify”. Her lines work especially well on the music video that features striking visuals of the ongoing civil rights demonstrations in the US; check it out above.

1. “Trouble’s Coming” by Royal Blood

Royal Blood are a two(!)-piece rock band from Brighton, consisting simply of Mike Kerr on vocals / bass guitar and Ben Thatcher on drums. Their self-titled debut album blew us away with the sheer volume and breadth of sound that these two people can produce, as did their sophomore album How Did We Get So Dark?. Now, ahead of their third album next year, The band has released “Trouble’s Coming” – a searing ride through familiar Royal Blood territory. The song of course features all the Royal Blood trademarks (Thatcher’s relentless drums, Kerr’s sneering vocals), but what we found most interesting was its dance-rock undertones, especially on the earworm of a chorus (“I hear trouble coming, over and over again”). Beware while listening, though: this is the kind of song that will make you dearly miss live performances.

Fontaines DC – A Hero’s Death

28 Sep

Fontaines DC burst onto the scene in 2019 with their rambunctious, near-perfect debut album Dogrel. The album’s mix of sneering punk, clever literary references and mesmerizing vocals won over many early fans, including us (as you might recall from our end-of-year lists). This summer, the Irish punk quarter returned with an engrossing, worthy follow-up called A Hero’s Death.

On the sophomore album, Fontaines DC keep their trademark self-confidence, but have somewhat smoothed out the edges. Fewer are the pub-fight-friendly tracks like “Big”; largely gone are the spoken-word punk bangers like “Hurricane Laughter”. A Hero’s Death was largely written on a massive global tour for Dogrel, and one can somewhat see the results. This album is more introspective, more cognizant of their growing fame, and perhaps a little dialed-down on the inimitable Irish-ness. Whether that’s a good thing or not depends on the listener.

If you’ve heard Dogrel, you’d have recognized the frequent mentions of America within lead singer Grian Chatten’s lyrics. The centuries-long migration pattern from Ireland to the United States seems to have made the latter a part of the Irish identity – not just for those who’ve left, but for those who stayed behind, too. Dogrel’s hit “Boys in the Better Land” centered on America as the titular “better land” that some folks in the old country still keep talking about.

On A Hero’s Death, “Living in America” adds another wrinkle to the Irish relationship to America: namely, the band’s own extensive tour through America and how it fits into the almost mythic Irish idea of the place. “We were kind of fascinated by that and fascinated by when we actually got to America and you travel across it, you do see that there is really a lot of inequality in a real way,” Chatten said on a recent interview. Fittingly, the track has the same kind of manic yet droning energy of a lot of hard-scrabble, dying American cities.

In fact, the band channels that same dissonance – between reality and imagination, between pre-fame life and post-fame life – on a few other tracks here. The album opener “I Don’t Belong” is a defiant rejection of the post-fame life, where Grian Chatten hypnotically repeats the phrase “I don’t belong to anyone” until all the layers stick with you. Screw you: they don’t want to belong to anyone. Too bad: they can’t belong to anyone. Mind yourself: they shouldn’t belong to anyone. Sadly: they don’t belong to anyone. “I Was Not Born” sounds like a song version of what the band may have precociously said to their tour managers; “I was not born into this world / To do another man’s bidding,” Chatten shouts in an echoing voice over incessant drums and guitars.

Although it’s just eleven songs long, A Hero’s Death takes the listener through many different moods and concepts. Right after the aforementioned brash “I Was Not Born” comes the wistful, sad-pop “Sunny” and the beautiful and gentle album closer “No”. Elsewhere, “Televised Mind” is a hypnotic extension of Dogrel’s “Television Screens” – a favorite theme of Fontaines DC regarding the decay of human thought in today’s consumerist society. “A Lucid Dream”, as the name suggests, is filled with trippy lines (“I was there / When the rain changed direction and fled to play tricks with your hair”) made tripper still with unpredictable volume modulations across verses and chorus.

Perhaps the best song on the album is, appropriately, the title track, which we’ve already spoken about extensively. Grian Chatten’s lyrics are intended to be satire on hypocritical, consumerist preaching, but they’ve accidentally come up with enough do-good edicts to start a small cult (we’re personally ready to sign up just with the line “Never let a clock tell you what you have time for”).

We had good things to say about all of the singles, and thankfully the rest of the album holds up too. A Hero’s Death may not be exactly similar to Dogrel, but it’s more multi-faceted and a little more grown-up in its outlook. Most importantly, it proves that there’s much more to Fontaines DC, and we can’t wait to see what’s next.

Best tracks: “A Hero’s Death”, “Televised Mind”, “A Lucid Dream”

Rating: 8.5/10

Fresh New Voice: A Chat with Arham Fulfagar

22 Sep

“Make It Alright” by young singer-songwriter Arham Fulfagar really caught our eyes and ears this August. The gentle, lilting guitar melody syncs well with Arham’s mellow voice, from the stark chorus into the jangly verses. We took a spin through the rest of his discography, and couldn’t wait to find out more about him. Read on for a short interview with the Guwahati musician about his influences, his musical awakening, and his upcoming EP!

Top Five Records: Hi Arham! Thanks for meeting with us. Tell us a little bit about yourself?

Arham Fulfagar: I am a singer-songwriter born and brought up in Guwahati, and I also have been working as a freelancer video editor during this lockdown. I have been writing this way for about a couple of years, and I also write poetry and make spoken-word videos besides making music. I love to travel and explore just as much as I love to explore new and underrated music from the corners of YouTube and Spotify.

I also love to show magic tricks to people and I’m also quite good at it! I love doing and learning new things. I’m not really a “talker” in a group, but I love to talk about things like the universe, life, popular conspiracy theories, and of course, music. I’m a believer of “everything happens for a reason” and that every little decision I’ve made has lead me here – and I’m proud of it!

I believe that sometimes things fall apart, but it’s only to make way for better things. I’ve come a long way when I look back and I have a long way to go, but I’m more excited than scared, as the universe works in its magical ways.

TFR: Quite multi-faceted! You mentioned you’re from Guwahati… How much does the North East shape your music and your art?

AF: The North East defines who I am and how I’ve grown over the years. But on the other hand, traveling and moving cities is what has given me experiences of a lifetime without which my art wouldn’t exist the way it does. There are obviously more than one influence that has lead me here. My music and my art has absolutely a lot to do with my life most of which I’ve spent here in Guwahati, Assam.

The North East is a beautiful place with lots of positive vibes and people who have an incredible love for things like music and art; and thus it has a major role in shaping me as a musician, too. At the same time, living away from my parents and family, on my own and blending in with people from different cities has also influenced my art and my style of music.

TFR: We loved your recent jangly, poppy new single “Make It Alright”. Talk to us about the story behind the song! What’s the idea behind it?

AF: “Make it Alright” is an experiment to make a sad song sort of groovy (or poppy). When I was writing it for the first time, I had a thousand things messing with my head, and I had recently started having some anxiety attacks. This was when I was in college back in Bangalore, and I was living with my friends. I remember sitting in my bed and just strumming these basic four chords until I had this image in my head of a boy sitting in the corner of my room, sobbing. That’s when these words came out of my mouth, “I know what you’re crying about, just hold my hand let me make it alright” – and that’s how the song started! Later, I just started sort of blabbering and throwing out random words and recorded them on my phone’s recorder.

TFR: Very interesting. Coming to your musical influences: We hear snippets of everything from Jason Mraz to Ed Sheeran in your vocal and instrumental style. Who are your big influences, musically or otherwise?

AF: There’s this one musician that I look up to the most and want to be able to write and perform like some day. His name is Damien Rice and he is a major influence to the way I write my songs and perform them. Besides that I am also inspired by lots of underrated musicians like Anson Seabra, Roo Panes, Ray LaMontagne, Gert Taberner, and more. I listen to a lot of artists including Ed Sheeran and Jason Mraz, and keep looking to get inspired. Besides these, there are artists that I see around me who also influence me as an artist, such as Raghav Meatle, Anuv Jain, Osho Jain, and my artist friends – most of whom I’ve met in this lockdown.

TFR: Another track we love is “Waiting For You / Intezaar”, especially in the seamless way you switch between English and Hindi. Do you have a preference in either language? Do you relate different emotions or feelings to the two languages?

AF:Waiting for You / Intezaar” was a beautiful experience for me. It was the second single that I put out and the only single as of now to have crossed 10,000 and even 25,000 streams on Spotify. The lyrics are very honest and simple, and there’s no instruments in the song other than an acoustic guitar and very light keyboard.

Talking about language and what I prefer, I think it’s a lot easier for me to write in English but my listeners and even I love it when I write something in Hindi. I’m liking this mix that I have and I’m grateful to be able to use both the languages for my songs. Lately I’ve been trying to write more in Hindi as well. A song I wrote during the lockdown called “The Kabootar Song” is a Hindi song that has received the most love compared to all other songs, even though it hasn’t even been released.

I don’t always relate different emotions to the two languages, although I must say that lately I’ve been finding it easier to write happier songs in Hindi. But these are only phases and I’m pretty sure it’s all in my head.

TFR: It looks like you’ve been steadily releasing new songs all year, with “Red Wine” in February, “Waiting for You” in April, “Victim in Love” in June, and now this latest song in August. What are you leading up to? Is there an album in the works?

AF: I performed for the first time in October 2019 and it was the performance that changed my life. It was a DIY festival called The Yellow Festival and it took place in a place called Pulga in Himachal Pradesh. None of my songs were out and I performed my songs for the first time and it was so beautiful that I decided to start releasing music in 2020, which I did. I was living in Mumbai and I found an amazing studio and producer who helped me.

Thus, indeed I’ve been steadily releasing new songs this year and I am releasing my last single this year (in September) before I start working on my debut EP. The single is called “A Little More” and is one of the songs that I recorded back in November 2019 in Mumbai. I think it’s also one of the best tracks from that time!

The EP is going to be called Ham Chalein and it’ll be a Hindi EP with about five songs, and I’m super excited about it! I can’t wait to record them and get them produced and release them. I still have lots of original songs that I’m yet to record and put out. Moreover I’m writing new stuff almost regularly.

TFR: As a young, upcoming artist, how have you worked on building your fanbase at a time when the entire world is on lockdown?

AF: As you keep putting out newer stuff, you also build an audience for your past stuff, which is sort of what I’ve been doing. Moreover, I have been making friends by attending live events and shows. I have also been putting out poetry related content and even videos to reach more people. I have also joined some popular IG Lives such as that of Ehsaan Noorani, Armaan Malik and Remo D’Souza to reach more people with my talent. Staying connected with people who support you is also very important so it’s important to show my followers that I really am grateful for them, time to time.

TFR: If there’s one Indian musical artist you’d like to collaborate with, who would it be? And what about one non-Indian musical artist?

AF: I would love to collaborate with a lot of Indie musicians in the future and it’s really tough to pick one but if I had to, I’d go with Prateek Kuhad. As clichéd as it might sound, Prateek Kuhad is someone that has taken the independent music scene to another level, and a lot of us artist do look up to him. Moreover, his songwriting is so honest and simple and relatable.

If I’m to choose one non-Indian musical artists that I would like to collaborate with, it has to be Damien Rice. My admiration for Damien Rice is on another level, it’s almost like a crush. My friends have even started calling me “the long lost son of Damien Rice” because of how much I’m inspired by his style of writing and performing.

TFR: Haha, that’s funny. Thanks so much, Arham, for chatting with us! And best of luck for the release of your new track and the upcoming EP, too!

Listen to Arham wherever you get your music. And be sure to keep your eyes open for his new single this week!

Aminé – Limbo

19 Sep

I don’t think it’s possible to overstate how likable Aminé can be and how much that adds to his music. I’m always happy to see what he’s up to. He’s not the only rapper to be this upbeat or this insouciant, but he’s easily the one that I like the most.

Sometimes, this is exactly right. He has a talent for catchiness and so songs like “Compensating” really take off. He has fun, his personality gets to shine and Thugger is a good complement for him. When he gets into his flow, like in “Woodlawn,” he’s a lot of fun. “Riri” is him in his comfort zone, but better than he’s ever been before. That hook in particular is a top-tier earworm.

There’s a fair bit of air in the album though, as is unfortunately common for Aminé. “Pressure In My Palms” tries his standard formula but isn’t catchy or interesting enough. It doesn’t show him off at all and sort of feels like a Vince Staples outtake. Similarly, “Roots” reminds me of Saba and Kendrick, but I’d rather listen to them than this.

“Mama” has him trying sincerity, but it’s not a strong move. He doesn’t have the toughness for the move to feel like a softening and he’s too ironic for a straight-edge song. “Fetus” is slow and thoughtful and quite well done. It’s not innovative, but it is good and the grapefruit line hits.

You have to take Aminé for who he is. This isn’t the kind of album that’s going to stick to you long after it’s done. Instead, it’s an effervescent album with fun lines and catchy hooks and one that you’ll feel good for having heard.

Back with a Bang: The Lightyears Explode

13 Sep
Photo Credit: Omar Iyer

The Lightyears Explode are an indie dance-pop / rock band from Mumbai, India. The band was formed in 2009 and quickly developed a following with an early win at the Channel[V] Launchpad in 2011. A short eponymous EP followed later that year, and later a full-length album – The Revenge of Kalicharan (2013). We at Top Five Records are great fans of this album, especially the unmistakeable Franz Ferdinand vibes on the dance-rock gem “I Am A Disco Dancer” and the debut-era Arctic Monkeys feels on “Diet Coke“.

After a long hiatus (save for the much poppier “Drunk Loser” in 2018), the Lightyears Explode are, thankfully, back. Their funk-drenched single “Satire” was released on September 4th, and has been on our daily playlists since. Our writer Madhoo took the opportunity to chat with the band about their origin story, influences, newfound appreciation for pop, and much more. Read on below!

Top Five Records: Tell me about the band! How did you guys start off? What’s your story?

Saurabh: We started around 2010 when we were still in college. At that point, we were more of a fast rock sort of band.

Jeremy: Yeah, like kind of punk, you know?

Saurabh: I’d say like more of an Arctic Monkeys-punk sound. And then we played a bunch of shows, released an album, The Revenge Of Kalicharan, and then we took a bit of a break for a while. I went to England for a while to study music production. When we came back, Jeremy joined us and here we are now!

Jeremy: 2015 was when we started up again, and now we’re working on new music.

TFR: Tell me about the name of your band. What’s behind the name?

Saurabh: First we were just called the Lightyears. I was a huge Toy Story fan. But it turns out that there was a band in England using that name already, and they sent us a message on MySpace.

Shalom: Haha, and it wasn’t a very polite message at that, it was very firm.

Saurabh: Yeah it was a British-polite. Like, it wasn’t an option, it was “Just change it!” If we’d known about them, we wouldn’t have tried to nick their name, you know? So we added in the ‘explode’ and it just sounded cool to us.

Jeremy: There was another option though. We considered being called The Mighty Scoundrels for a bit!

Saurabh: It’s good that we didn’t go with that. Actually, for just for a moment there, I was really into a genre of rock called psychobilly and I thought we should lean into that, and go with a gothic sort of name.

Shalom: Yeah, we even wore eyeliner for a day… but it was just for a shoot. (laughs)

Saurabh: Yeah, for a shoot, we tried to portray the whole look. You did the clown look, right?

Shalom: Yeah, I had the orange wig and makeup all over. The only good thing is that no one could tell it was me, unless I told them. It was a good disguise.

TFR: What would you guys say are your major influences? What were you guys listening to around the time you started the band?

Saurabh: Well, when we started the band, our influences were pretty different. I was really into Arctic Monkeys and Green Day mainly.

TFR: Yeah I definitely hear that in your early stuff!

Shalom: And Operation Ivy!

Saurabh: And the Fratellis, and the Beatles, obviously. Recently though, we’ve been really into HAIM, Jack Antonoff and his band the Bleachers, some Fleetwood Mac (especially Tango In The Night). And Jackson 5, stuff like that. I’d say we’ve really mellowed out recently.

TFR: We’re really obsessed with your first album, and we’ve always got a strong Franz Ferdinand vibe from it!

Shalom: Yeah definitely, we always did listen to a lot of Franz Ferdinand.

Saurabh: Yeah, we all grew up listening to a lot of this stuff – bands like the White Stripes, the Fratellis and all that. I guess you can really hear that.

TFR: So you mentioned that your music has become mellower over time. Any particular trigger?

Saurabh: So we were always playing, except for that brief hiatus. The new sound… it just sort of happened.

Jeremy: I’d say we kind of worked our way towards a more pop sound.

Shalom: Also, all of us really started listening to a lot more pop than we used to.

Saurabh: We started to re-establish music that we grew up listening to. For example, growing up, I personally really liked the Backstreet Boys.

Jeremy: Come on, everyone liked the Backstreet Boys!

Saurabh: But there was a point where we kind of had to stop and say “Uhh, no… we’re punk now.” But now, we’re just going back to it that stuff and we’re thinking, “Man, this is just awesome!” Amazing songwriting, well-produced, well-sung. And I see those songs in a different light now. Like Shania Twain, for example. (Proceeds to sing a snippet of “That Don’t Impress Me Much“)

TFR: With this pivot to a new sound, how has your process of songwriting changed? Compared to your process of making music for your last album, I mean.

Saurabh: [On the first album,] I’d write songs all over the place, sometimes in college, even. There was one song I wrote in class which was about me being in class and wanting it to just end already. That was really early on, though. So there was no process as such. This time, too, there wasn’t really a process in terms of songwriting. We worked until it sounded good to us and sent it off for mixing and the next steps.

Jeremy: This time, though, I’d say there’s a lot more production that’s done before we get into the jam room. It’s a bit more planned out- there’s an idea that we work out together. I wasn’t around for the first album, but I think it sounded a little like it was worked out together in the jam room.

Shalom: We also did a lot of demos for the newer stuff. We demoed it at Saurabh’s place and really thought about how it’d sound on an album, and how we’d replicate that song when we play it live. We paid more attention to that aspect of it, and I think it helped us look at our songwriting with a slightly different perspective. We really had to think of how the end product of this song would sound, while we were writing it.

Saurabh: I mean, we also demoed our first album, but it’s definitely different this time.

Shalom: Yeah, there’s definitely more production this time, and we’ve been a lot more serious with the demos as well.

Saurabh: Well, I had to get my money’s worth out of production school. It was so expensive!

Teaser for “Satire” released in early September 2020

TFR: Can you tell me about the direction you guys are taking with the new album?

Saurabh: So we’ve been separately writing a lot during lockdown. It sounds really saccharine, kind of retro. I feel like the more I write and the more we perform live, we get more and more comfortable with pop. It’s really easy for all of us – at least for me, growing up, it was – to make fun of pop music. But once you start doing it, it’s really not easy! The people who do it are really good at what they do. The appreciation of pop songwriting that we gained while writing this album is something we’re working towards. We’re trying to get more comfortable with being there.

TFR: You’re onto something there! I think pop has always been dismissed as something exclusively for teenage girls, and isn’t taken seriously much. I think it’s quite interesting to see this sort of reclamation of the pop genre, in a way.

Saurabh: I don’t know if pop needed reclamation, but for us personally, it definitely did.

TFR: How’s the coordination been during this pandemic? Has it been tough to work around that?

Saurabh: We were talking about that just now, about how difficult but adventurous it’s been to get a photo for our release. We’ve had to do a lot of stuff like this.

Jeremy: There’s definitely a lot more planning involved. Less trial-and-error when it comes to organisation!

Saurabh: Our album was mixed in Australia though. Since their lockdown rules were a bit more toned down, they were able to work on it while we were in lockdown. The writing took place over two years, but we’ve been finishing up now.

TFR: In a usual album release cycle, you’d probably go on tour and do shows. How does this work out for you in a situation like this?

Saurabh: So we’re working on putting out some videos. We’re also working on doing some live-streamed gigs, especially from some smaller studios around the city.

Shalom: There are a bunch of musicians doing that, right now.

Saurabh: I think artists are getting better at adapting to this new medium and we just have to get the hang of it.

TFR: Sounds great! I’ve seen a lot more artists adapting to Instagram for this age, and it feels like a lot of live music has become more accessible. What are your thoughts on this?

Saurabh: I’ve definitely seen a lot more shows and artists that I wouldn’t have been able to. I’d obviously have liked to see them in a gig, but now i can check these artists out at a later date. It’s easy to knock it because it might not sound or look as good as a live show. But something is better than nothing at all, you know?

I myself have discovered at least three or four new artists in this lockdown, just through their live streams. Though it’s not a physical gig, you still get to hear their work and interact with them. They’re putting their content out there for new people to enjoy, so I personally like it.

Shalom: Yeah, like Saurabh said, if you end up stumbling upon a new artist through live streams, you kind of go on a whole journey of looking them up, following them, checking them out on Spotify. Another cool thing is that you end up looking at an artist’s older work in this process, stuff you probably would’ve missed out on otherwise.

Jeremy: That brings in the feeling of a gig, in a way.

Shalom: Obviously I love live music, but this is the best we can do right now, you know?

Jeremy: There’s also something really nice about being able to attend gigs from all over the world, right on your couch. (laughs)

TFR: Speaking of gigs, what’s the best gig you guys have done?

Jeremy: Ooh, that’s a hard one.

Saurabh: Every gig is slightly different. In our most recent one, we got to play a lot of our newer stuff so that was fun!

Jeremy: But I think the gig we did at The Habitat was possibly the most fun.

Saurabh: The Koniac Net album release one!

Album art by Harmeet Rahal

TFR: What’s the next month looking like for you guys, in terms of releases and content?

Saurabh: We’re releasing our new song “Satire” on Sept 4th. [Ed. Note: This interview was conducted just before the song release.] We’re also working on some videos right now!

Shalom: We’re trying to put out songs consistently. As things start to open up, we’re also working on some videos and new content.

Saurabh: That’s something we’ve actually really enjoyed this time: working with other people. We were very insular before. Now with the artwork, the videos, and everything, we’ve really enjoyed this collaborative aspect.

TFR: Anyone you want to shout out from your team?

Saurabh: Our whole team: Achyint for producing, Ganesh for mixing, Richard for mastering, Harmeet for doing the artwork, Deepthi and Saket for working on the video!

Rapid Fire Round

TFR: Dream collab?

Saurabh: Danger Mouse

Shalom: Jack Antonoff

TFR: What are you listening to right now?

Saurabh: The last solo Brandon Flowers album, the new Killers album, and the new Taylor Swift album.

Shalom: The new HAIM album, King Princess and the first Yuck album – that’s a really good one. [Ed. Note: It is, indeed.]

Jeremy: I listen to a lot of electronic- jungle drum, bass, footwork. So SqaurePusher, Aphex Twin, that sort of stuff. They were way ahead of their time.

TFR: Desert island record?

Saurabh: In the Airplane Over the Sea [Neutral Milk Hotel]

Shalom: Any Beatles album – can’t go wrong with that!

Jeremy: Ultravisitor by SquarePusher

TFR: Describe your sound in three words!

Saurabh: Saccharine, dancey, poppy

Shalom: Poppy, jumpy, energetic

Jeremy: You guys pretty much covered it!

Listen to “Satire” by the Lightyears Explode wherever you get your music. And do give The Revenge of Kalicharan a spin – you won’t regret it!

Top Five Deep Cuts: Arctic Monkeys Edition

11 Sep

In the fifteen years since Arctic Monkeys emerged on the music scene, they’ve donned a dozen different hats. From their garage rock-style energetic debut album to their most recent space-themed lounge rock album, their sound is incredibly hard to pin down.

They’ve been described as the distilled-down sounds of the Strokes, The Killers and Franz Ferdinand (arguably, three of the most influential rock outfits of the 2000s), but they’re somehow much more than that. With frontman Alex Turner’s expertly written and clever lyrics, and the band’s undeniable musical prowess, the Arctic Monkeys have rightfully dominated the rock scene for years now.

They hit mainstream fame with their 2013 album AM and became a household name, with tracks like “R U Mine” and “Arabella”. These tracks are, no doubt, incredible (and make you feel cool and suave for listening to them), but there are some truly hidden gems in their body of work that showcase a different side of the Arctic Monkeys.

If you’re keeping score, it’s been almost exactly seven years to the day since the release of AM in September 2013. (Note: We at TFR prefer to forget the existence of Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino.) Given the hellscape that is 2020, we thought it was a good time to take a quick, refreshing flashback into the early aughts. Without further ado, here are our picks for the top five Arctic Monkeys deep cuts!

5. “Piledriver Waltz” from the Submarine soundtrack

If anyone should be commissioned to write the soundtrack to a British coming-of-age drama, it’s Alex Turner. He’s incredibly skilled at finding the balance between deeply poignant and casually whimsical: which about sums up the teenage experience for most, we suppose. And how many musicians can write an upbeat heartbreak song with references to Elvis, circuses, Jesus and traffic lights, all while adhering to the incredibly difficult ¾ time signature?

Piledriver Waltz is the least mopey breakup song. It’s certainly wistful in tone, but has a warm fuzziness that leaves you hopeful for the future. The layered instrumental production on this version adds more depth to a starkly three-dimensional portrait of a broken relationship. Though a slightly different version was later released on Suck It and See, this version holds a special place in our hearts and in those of other true-blue Turner fans. Nothing changed too considerably between the two versions: the lyrics and the melody are identical, yet somehow, this one is just a little more cinematic and melancholic than the album version.

4. “Mad Sounds” from AM

Somewhere in the early 2010s, Alex Turner seemingly dropped his Suck It and See-era softboy persona and dove headfirst into a vat of hair gel and leather jackets. The band emerged fully reinvented, as a Proper Rock Band™ that played heavier rock with the catchiest riffs and hooks. It’s no surprise that they blew up with AM; it appealed to fans of rock, hip-hop, pop and R&B all at once. Tracks like “Do I Wanna Know” and “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High” have permanently changed the face of the 2010s indie rock landscape and have quickly become modern classics.

“Mad Sounds”, though, is a sharp deviation from the rest of the album’s British-James-Dean feel. Nestled right in the middle of the album, the track is a gentle, lilting reminder that the Arctic Monkeys are more than a rock and roll band that writes about one night stands and pub culture. “Mad Sounds” feels, instead, like a spiritual sequel to Velvet Underground’s “Pale Blue Eyes”. If the Velvet Underground were still together, this is what they’d have sounded like in 2012.

Turner’s vocals ring sharp and crystal-clear, and though the lyrics aren’t saying much, it’s a much-needed respite from the verbal barrage of the rest of the album. The lines “And out of nowhere, somebody comes and hits you with an ‘ooh-la-la-la-la’” essentially sum up this track’s place in the album, and in their discography.

3. “Temptation Greets You Like Your Naughty Friend” feat. Dizzee Rascal

Possibly the deepest of deep cuts; even most hardcore fans don’t know about this B-Side to “Brianstorm”. The track features British rapper Dizzee Rascal who, at the time, was at the peak of his rap career. Arctic Monkeys have always cited rap and hip-hop as one of their primary influences growing up, but that’s usually a very subtle contextual layer to their music. This track is unique for a number of reasons. The band almost never features any other artist on their tracks, and they never mix genres to this degree. But somehow, they did it for this track, and somehow, it works.

It’s tough to produce art that transports the listener to an exact time and place, but this track does exactly that. The raw energy of the song makes you feel like you’re a frustrated British teen in the 2000s, which is probably exactly what they were going for (and until recently, were themselves). Turner’s lyrics are, of course, beautifully minimal (“The only roads are cul-de-sacs/ The only ends are dead”) and his voice still has the boyish charm of the band’s early work. The strong riff line and the syncopated drums are a perfect match to Dizzee Rascal’s grime-style rap bridge. “Temptation” might be an anomaly as far as AM’s music goes, but it’s a refreshing reminder that the band can dominate in just about any genre.

Bonus: Amazing live version with Dizzee from Glastonbury 2007. Ah, 2007.

2. “Secret Door” from Humbug

Humbug is, in many ways, a transition album for the Arctic Monkeys’ sound, where the line blurs between upbeat post-punk and romantic indie rock. Consequently, it’s one of their most divisive albums. “Secret Door” is the perfect example of this in-between space. While the verses have that classic high-energy style of the older Arctic Monkeys, the chorus and the outro are haunting,  cinematic and beautiful.

Alex Turner’s lyrics have always been good, but with Humbug, he began to write what was essentially poetry set to music (“Fools on parade cavort and carry on / For waiting eyes” ), yet somehow he manages to avoid sounding cloying in the process.

‘Secret Door” is probably frequently overlooked because it’s just such a shock to the system. As the opening track on Humbug, fans expected a huge, over-the-top audio explosion, like “Brianstorm” on Favourite Worst Nightmare. What they got, instead, was this mish-mash track that sounded like the background score to a sentimental scene in a John Hughes movie. But still, the raw talent of Turner’s vocals, combined with drummer Matt Helders’ impressive percussion make this one of the most engaging and musically interesting tracks on Humbug.

1. “She’s Thunderstorms” from Suck It And See

Alex Turner knows how to write a love song. He knows how to turn a phrase that’s romantic but never cheesy, and it shows on this track. Nobody in human history has ever described their love interest as “thunderstorms”, and yet, you know exactly what he’s talking about.

Suck It And See, Arctic Monkeys’ fourth studio album, is another one that’s heavily debated amongst fans: they either hate it with a burning passion or think it’s their best work. There’s no in-between. SIAS, the incredibly stripped down, softpop follow-up to Humbug, begins with the minor-key sinister opening riff on “She’s Thunderstorms”. Immediately, though, the warm vocals and lead guitars kick in, and you immediately feel cheery and comfortable; like you’re in 500 Days Of Summer.

The track showcases an amount of restraint that the band had never demonstrated before. The lyrics are minimalist, the production isn’t heavy-handed, and the instrumental arrangement is just enough. It’s clear that this is a grown-up version of the angry teenage Arctic Monkeys from the first two albums, but it’s mature in a quiet, self-confident way. They’re comfortable enough to tone it down a notch and still get their point across.

Honorable mentions:

Cornerstone” from Humbug

This may be a personal bias, but it’s our opinion at TFR that this is the best love song ever written. Paired with a hilariously low budget music video, this track really shows the Arctic Monkeys at their best.

Mardy Bum” from Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not

This is a simple song from their debut about a tiff between a couple, narrated in a ridiculously strong Sheffield accent. The band comes through with a surprisingly strong guitar solo, about midway, that changes the tone of the song entirely.

Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” by Tame Impala (cover)

It’s tough to improve on a Tame Impala track, but if anyone can do it, it’s Alex Turner. The band has a way to make the song sound soulful and complex, seemingly effortlessly.

The Bakery“, B-Side to “Fluorescent Adolescent”

Very similar in theme to “Cornerstone”, but relayed in a British dialect so strong that you probably don’t know what they’re talking about, exactly. (What is a “tatty settee”?) Turner’s voice is delightfully laid back, and the production is so sparse that it feels like you’re watching your college band run through a practice. Its simplicity is what wins you over. 

Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments!

Nubya Garcia – SOURCE

7 Sep

It’s on the title track that you can really feel the talent that Nubya Garcia brings to the table. It’s the longest track on the album at 12 minutes, but it packs those twelve minutes full of action. There’s an excellent solo from Nubya Garcia there and it’s followed by an equally spectacular keyboard solo. It’s a fiery track and absolutely top level jazz.

She has the same quality in “Pace,” where the music has a good, frenetic energy. “Before Us” keeps that fast pace and takes the sound close to noise and benefits greatly from that. The jagged horns are an absolute treat, even if the opening veered a little easy listening for my taste.

However, there a couple of places where it takes things too slow for its own good. “Stand With Each Other” takes too long to get where it’s going. While “Inner Game” and “Together Is A Beautiful Place to Be” both have a nice tone to them, they lack brilliance. They’re satisfactory, but they don’t do anything interesting.

“La Cumbia Me Esta Llamando” has genius to spare though. The Latin sound that pops in and out through the album comes to the forefront here and its melding with the jazz is fantastic. Nubya Garcia has the talent to pull off any kind of jazz she chooses, but it’s in this style that she is most exciting.

SOURCE has a little more air than I would prefer, but there’s plenty here to reward jazz aficionados of any level. This is a very impressive debut and completely justifies the anticipation it commanded. I’m excited to see what Nubya Garcia does next.

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