Drake – Dark Line Demo Tapes

11 May

Dark Lane Demo Tapes does one thing in particular, it reminds you that Drake has talent. That talent gets lost a little in all of the stuff around him. He’s a superstar in a real sense. He is the upper echelon of the upper echelon of fame and it can be easy to forget the music what with the shoes and the viral videos and all that, but even with a loosie like this, Drake just puts out very good music. 

“Toosie Slide” has the viral dance that it was built around and the virtual tour of his mansion and it’s probably already something I can do in Fortnite, but it’s the song that’s stuck in my head, not the accessories. His flow is excellent. He’s greyed the area between singing and rapping so thoroughly by now that the question of what is what feels empty, but it’s still incredible. The pauses in his chorus are nothing short of genius. The song is infectious and every bit as good as anything Drake has ever put out.

He’s got a great sneer in this album. “When To Say When” takes well-placed shots at the people biting at his heels. The stunting in “From Florida With Love” is excellent bragging, even if the jetsetting lifestyle seems a little quaint at this exact moment, as is also the case in the fun “Landed.” Drake wears his superstardom well.

However, this is where the mixtape fails a little. Drake sticks to comfortable poses throughout. He plays superstar in the ones above, he plays Toronto sadboy in the rest, and I’d like to see him try something new. “Pain 1993” gestures at that growth, but it still feels like the old Drake. “Losses” talks about changing, but he’s still as quick to mope and as petty as he has ever been. “D4L” is quite good trap, but the man has worn these topics through. Even reimagining “Superman” in “Chicago Freestyle” while clever and solid rap feels a little pointless at the end.

Drake is a father now, and while it’s trite to expect family to change a man, it’s unbelievable that it doesn’t. Drake only ever shows us what he wants to show us, but his music suffers for running the same themes again.

Musically though, he’s as inventive as ever. His proficiency at trap is no surprise anymore, but “War” is excellent British rap. Drake has been both willing and able to experiment with everything in rap and beyond and he does it with consummate skill. His shapeshifting is as much a part of his legacy as any of the shinier parts.

This is where the mixtape ends up falling overall. This is some of the most consistent work that Drake has ever put out. It’s all good, high-quality rap. Drake has perfected his molasses sound, it’s sugared, but dark and viscous and it sticks to you, but he adheres to the same limited issues and it’s beginning to hold him back. Nevertheless, he’s good enough to make this mixtape stand out. This has some of the best music of the year and while Drake is definitely capable of more, he still delivers in a way that most cannot.

Childish Gambino – 3.15.20

8 May

Today is the 8th of May , which marks exactly 54 days since 3.15.20 was released. Numbers are a recurring theme on this album, which is both intriguing and frustrating, because it is legitimately difficult to remember tracks – most of the track names are the actual timing at which they appear on the album, such as “42.26,” more familiar as last year’s Feels Like Summer. A nightmare for people like me with 0 memory ability.

But (as dozens of other critics have already pointed out) it does fit well with the current culture and our bizarre time-dilated COVID-19 shared lockdown experience. Day, date, time have all lost meaning in our socially-distant reality, just as the process of listening to this long flowy interwoven album renders time into a True Detective reference.

Meta-relevance aside, is it good? Short answer… yes?

We are, we are, we are…

3.15.20 is complex, rich, conceptually heavy. It is both musically challenging and easily consumed. It continues Childish’s ability to mix hard topics with soft sounds, complimented by long-time collaborator Ludwig Goransen’s steady producer hands. It is perfectly in sync with Gambino’s current downbeat vibe. It is critically and artistically important. It proves Gambino’s unchallenged dominance in the rapper/actor scene (suck it, Drake), and will no doubt be on pretty much everyone’s best-of- lists for the year, if not decade.

And yet…

I miss the old Childish. The straight from the go Childish.

The younger, more fire-fueled Childish ceded space to this new, chill Gambino years ago, but each new release still makes me miss that version. The kid still young and hungry and trying to prove himself with a high voice laden with anger and desperate braggadocio. The artist has long since moved on.

But I haven’t.

– Karthik.

Jimmy Greene – While Looking Up

4 May

Jimmy Greene has made something of a name for himself in jazz circles since 2014’s Beautiful Life and while the sequel wasn’t quite as brilliant, it’s still always exciting to see new music from him. Unfortunately though, While Looking Up leaves too much to be desired.

There are some definite stand-out moments. “While Looking Up” has a very nice sax solo and some unexpected diversions in the piano solo and there’s good energy in “Always There.” I always like a vibraphone solo and the one in “April 4th” is a delight, even if would have benefited from some tightening. Jimmy Greene’s sax work is also excellent in the slower “Good Morning Heartache” and the equally heartfelt “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me).” He’s good at getting emotion through, but the song stays too long without enough to say.

This happens with some regularity in the album and it pushes the whole thing too far into easy listening for my taste. There are some clever bits, but the album tends to predictability, a trait made worse by a number of songs refusing to end. It’s an often beautiful album, but one without depth and one ultimately that’s hard to recommend.

Stepping About with Tushar Mathur: An Interview

1 May

Bangalore-based Tushar Mathur has made quite a splash in the short time since he’s gone solo. With two singles out already, “Mend” and “Groove Pool”, he’s earned a sizable following for his signature chill R&B sound and sharp production quality. He’s been featured on BBC, VH1 and countless media publications for his fresh and unique sound.

But as laid-back and breezy as his music may sound, Tushar Mathur’s work ethic is quite the opposite. In launching his music career, he’s learned to don many hats: songwriter, producer, video editor and social media manager, to name a few. Fittingly enough, his upcoming track “Stepping About”, talks about our generation’s struggle to strike a balance between hustle culture and self-care. The track features Shayan Roy, a Mumbai-based rapper and producer of Buzzfeed fame and releases on May 1st.

We sat down with Tushar Mathur last week for a detailed chat about his music, his influences and what it means to be a musician in the social media age.

Tell us about yourself!

Let’s start with the name. My name is Tushar Mathur and I’m originally from Coimbatore. I’m a chemical engineer. I finished my degree and didn’t want to pursue engineering at all. I moved to Bangalore around three years ago to do music full time.

I have a band that mainly plays blues-rock, and now I’m working on launching my solo career. The song I’m coming out with, “Stepping About”, is my third single; “Mend” and “Groove Pool” were my first two tracks and they released last year.

We really enjoyed your first two tracks! What made you interested in music? What would you say is the starting point for you?

The starting point for me, I’d say, is my family. I have a very musical family. My parents and grandparents sing Hindustani classical music. But the moment I really got interested in English music was when my brother went to Jaipur for his summer vacation and he came back with a CD. That CD had 12 tracks – mostly hits by Guns and Roses and Deep Purple. We’d sit down and listen to that CD on repeat, the entire day. That sparked an interest in me and I took it forward from there.

My dad also used to play a lot of John Denver and country music around the house. I grew up listening to a lot of guitar-centric music. My brother would also introduce me to a lot of metal and rock. My music has been centred around the guitar ever since.

So would you say these are your primary influences? Or has this evolved as you’ve evolved as an artist? What would you say your main influences are now?

Right now, I’m hugely inspired by Tom Misch. He’s a guitarist and producer from London. My music has been hugely inspired by him- the style that I have now is mainly because of how much Tom Misch I listen to. Another recent influence of mine has been FKJ. When I start touring and playing live, my idea is to incorporate a lot of loop work onstage. FKJ has sort of been a pioneer in that field.

Your first two tracks feel so effortless and breezy! How was the process of writing, producing and releasing these songs?

My first track Groove Pool” is about an introvert at a party who wants to let loose. I’m not exactly why I wrote about it.. I’m not usually an introvert, but maybe I felt that way and just wanted to write about it. (Laughs)

My writing always starts off with simple guitar work. I usually start with a basic chord structure and build on top of that. The vocals, for me, usually come at the end. I tend to work on all the instruments and then sit down at the end of the day with the finished instrumentals, and write the lyrics and put in a nice vocal melody. That’s my process.

“Mend” was pretty similar. Groove Pool was released in July 2019 and Mend was out by November 2019. “Mend” was special because I worked quite hard on the music video for it. I had dancers, directors and photographers coming in so that took quite some time, but I’m happy with the result.

And how has the reception been for these tracks?

It’s been great! The songs have been on BBC Radio, both my videos were featured on VH1, and I’ve been featured on radio stations across the world. The response has been phenomenal, and people have been so supportive!

As a musician who’s transitioned between cities, how would you say the Bangalore scene compares to the Coimbatore scene?

The scene in Coimbatore is basically non-existent, which is why I moved to a city like Bangalore. Even before, we’d always travel to Bangalore for shows and competitions with my band. Bangalore has always been a great place for music; there are always people who play and appreciate different styles of music, especially when it comes to English music. Coimbatore’s scene is slowly developing as well, but the live music culture is yet to pick up. I’d say Bangalore is a hundred times better, in that aspect.

It must be an interesting experience to have to release music during this pandemic. Has it been a challenge to work on and promote your new track in these times?

I’ve actually been working on this third song for the last six months. It’s been a very long process. I’m usually very picky about my music, and with “Stepping About”, I was even more particular. It’s about our generation’s battle between hustle culture and self-care. Productivity has become a measure of self-worth, and it took me a while to gather my thoughts and pen them down, given how much this affects our generation.

The pandemic hasn’t really affected my release schedule- I’d say I’ve been going about my work as usual. Whenever I release music, I give myself an entire month to promote. I’ve been doing what I’ve done for every song. But I think during this pandemic, a lot of people are sitting at home and consuming more content than they usually would. I don’t think it’ll negatively affect the reception of the song per se; but my touring and live sets have definitely been impacted.

Even though it wasn’t written recently, the song’s subject matter seems more fitting than ever.

Somehow it’s become very relevant. Even in this situation, everyone’s constantly doing something, or learning something new. People of our generation constantly make themselves feel bad about not being productive enough, and that’s something I had felt six months ago when I came up with this song as a concept. It’s suddenly become way more relevant to the situation that’s going on right now.

Your track also features Shayan Roy, who’s popular for his viral Buzzfeed videos and his burgeoning rap career. How did this collab happen, and how was it working with Shayan?

I was looking for a rapper for my track. I got in touch with a lot of people but it wasn’t working out. Somehow I came across Shayan and I just sent him an email. That’s all I did. I attached my track and told him “Your part would be between these timestamps”, and asked if he’d be interested in laying something down for me. He actually got back to me instantly saying he loved the track and he would give it a shot.

It was that easy! A lot of people have asked me this: “How did you end up working with Shayan? How did this happen?” I’ve actually never met him- this has entirely been through email, Instagram and WhatAapp. And this all happened because of a single email. People don’t realize how important an email can be. That’s how I’ve got VH1, BBC and interviews like this.

You seem like quite the hustler!

(Laughs) Technically yes. It sounds a bit ironic that I’m writing a song about self-care. You’re right, I do hustle, and I do a lot of things. But there are times when I feel that I do need to chill out and take it easy. This song is to remind me to take a break. One of the lines actually is “At times I need to chill out” – that’s me telling myself I need to chill. So it’s very relatable to me and kind of a message to myself.

I’m always telling people to take it easy, but my friends tell me that I don’t follow my own advice and that I’m constantly doing something or the other. So I think that this song would be good for me as well, as a reminder that sometimes, I should take it easy.

Do you find it challenging to be a musician at this time? Between the music, the promotions and the social media, it feels like you’re doing the work of a three or four-member team!

That’s true, but the thing is: I love doing this! The music part is amazing, of course, but I believe that if you’re a musician, you need to see that music is a business. I think a lot of newer musicians think they’re above everybody, and think “I’m not going to learn how to promote myself, who wants to do that?” or “I’m just going to send this song out to a couple of my friends and it’ll blow up on its own.”

But I feel that with the music industry nowadays, the actual music makes up 30-40% of your success- the remaining 70% is just marketing and promotion. You might write the best song in the world, but if nobody’s going to hear it then what’s the point?

You’re right, it definitely is a three-person job, but I enjoy it, and I find the producing, marketing and promotion aspect of it extremely interesting.

Do you produce all your own tracks? How did you get into that?

Yeah, I’ve produced all my own tracks. I’m such a fidgety person, the type that loves to mess around with controls and buttons for hours, and that’s how I got into producing. I have a friend called Sandeep who’d take my calls and kind of guide me through some of the questions I had, but apart from that there’s always YouTube and Google. You can literally learn anything on the internet! This was essentially a product of me having a lot of time on my hands and being able to sit down and figure out how to achieve different sounds.

There was another advantage of getting into producing. I was already a musician at that point. Earlier, when we’d jam, I’d know what I want from the sound. Now it’s become easier to achieve that sound on my own and manage the different aspects of the final product. It’s given me more control over my music, in a way.

So you’re a self-taught musician as well as a producer!

I actually did go to guitar classes for a year, but I didn’t like it back then. It was mainly Carnatic stuff, and all I wanted to do was play Zeppelin. So yeah, I’d say I’m self-taught.

I’ve also taught myself video editing- all the videos you see are edited by me. I also take up a couple of freelance projects on the side, to support myself financially.

Wow, so it’s more like you’re doing the work of a six-member team!

Yeah I do quite a lot, you’re right. But I really enjoy the whole process.

RAPID FIRE:
Top Five Desert Island Album/Songs:

1. Beat Tape 1 by Tom Misch

2. Geography by Tom Misch

3. Dark Side of The Moon by Pink Floyd

4. Led Zepellin 1 by Led Zepellin

5. My own music!

What are you currently listening to?

I really make use of Spotify’s daily mix feature- lots of times I’m not really sure who the artists even are!

I’ve been very excited about FKJ’s new album, Tom Misch’s stuff and this artist called Raveena.

Describe your sound in two words.

Let’s make it three: Smooth. Like. Butter. (Laughs)

What’s been your favourite gig? And why?

My favourite gig is actually my very first one. I had a gig back in Coimbatore, in this Punjabi Association that we were a part of and my dad had pushed us to go play a show there. A lot of my friends and family were at the show, and they still fondly recall the gig to this day. That was the first-ever time I got up on stage to perform and it felt magical- it’s my most cherished performance that I’ve given.

Dream collab?

Tom Misch, if I could, but I wouldn’t be able to function if that happened. If not him, then I’d really like to collaborate with a Hindi rapper – maybe Divine (I love his style) or Raja Kumari.

Is there anyone you’d like to shout out for helping you along the way?

I’d like to shout out my friend Pavithra. She’s been with me the entire way, and she’s supported me throughout!

You can visit Tushar’s website here for more information. His music is available wherever you regularly stream music. Listen to “Stepping About” now!

Monthly Playlist – Apr. 2020

28 Apr

We say this almost every month, but April 2020 was truly one of the best months of music that we’ve ever been through. There was, of course, Fiona Apple’s universally-lauded Fetch the Bolt Cutters; on the very same day, English pop star Rina Sawayama released what is easily the best debut album since Invasion of Privacy (2018). We even got new tracks from reclusive acts like The Strokes and Jamie xx. Read on for a round-up of the best five songs from this month.

5. “Young and Beautiful” by Glass Animals

This is technically not a new song, but we love Glass Animals’ gauzy cover of Lana del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful”, released as part of a growing collection called, fittingly, Quarantine Covers. Dave Bayley’s spindly, whispery voice and bare production lends itself perfectly to the track – the result being a fresh yet respectful cover of a truly classic song.

As a bonus, check out another song in Quarantine Covers – a hypnotic take on Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box”.

4. “Shameika” by Fiona Apple

 Fiona Apple has had a sparse but monumental career, spanning five increasingly unrestrained albums from her debut Tidal (1995) to Fetch the Bolt Cutters (2020). This latest album currently enjoys an unprecedented perfect score on Metacritic. Is it worth the fawning all-round praise? Somewhat – but not entirely (see our in-depth review here).

Perhaps the most widely-shareable song on the album is “Shameika”, a rollicking tale about schoolgirl Fiona getting some tough love from a slightly older girl. The eponymous Shameika tells Fiona that she has potential, and Fiona uses that mantra to get through the bullying and boredom of middle-school life. We particularly love the rolling piano and Fiona’s jazzy storytelling on this track. Fiona recently shared that Shameika, indeed, turned out to be a real person (and not a figment of her imagination as she initially thought), so that’s cool too.

3. “Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus” by The Strokes

On April 10th, the Strokes released their much-awaited sixth album and thankfully, it lived up to expectations. The presciently-named The New Abnormal (in-depth review here) certainly featured some new direction for the band, but there were also some classic, old-school Strokes tracks. The fun and catchy “Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus” falls squarely in the later category. Kicked off by a bouncy, synth-heavy riff, the song features Julian Casablancas singing about the good old days over feel-good guitar work from Albert Hammond Jr. and Nick Valensi. It’s just a great tune.

2. “Idontknow” by Jamie xx

Idontknow”, a new single from English producer and DJ Jamie Smith (and one-half of The xx), is a revelation in its sheer use of beats. The track starts off with almost African-like beats that are sure to get you tapping along with some part of your body. Just when you think that’s all there is to it, the track ramps up into overdrive at approximately the 78-second mark. And when we say overdrive, we are not joking. The beats double in speed, and Jamie Smith expertly overlays mysterious vocals snippets, with the effect being a frenetic, craze-inducing romper of a track. It’s addictive in its simplicity, and we highly recommend it.

1. “XS” by Rina Sawayama

It may seem like Japanese-British pop singer Rina Sawayama comes to us fully-formed, but the 29-year-old has been working on her sound for some time. She had a couple of well-received tracks between 2013 and 2016, followed by a self-produced mini-album in 2017. This month, she finally released her official debut album – the eponymous SAWAYAMA – and it was well worth the build-up.

Sawayama’s sound is a beguiling mix of late-90s pop (think Britney and Mariah) and early 2000s moody rock (think Evanescence): nostalgic in its components parts but wholly original in its combination. The best song this month was definitely “XS”, a commentary on late-stage capitalism with a killer pop hook (we told you it’s original). “Luxury and opulence, Cartiers and Tesla X’s / Calabasas, I deserve it,” says Rina, before begging for “just a little bit more, little bit of excess”. Even if you don’t listen to the words in detail, you just can’t miss the pop sounds from the millennial Rina’s 90s / early 00s childhood.

Fiona Apple – Fetch The Bolt Cutters

25 Apr

It has been a long time since we’ve seen an album release like Fetch The Bolt Cutters. Acclaim this universal comes by only about once a decade. The combination of storytelling and challenging, clever music is powerful and the album is unquestionably brilliant, but it lands just a little short of being a full fledged masterpiece for me.

Firstly, this is an album that rewards attention, even if it doesn’t do that much to force it upon itself. It’s a largely understated album but right underneath the surface are all kinds of interesting currents. It’s heavily layered, but delicately so. Despite all of the flirtations with noise pop, the album only rarely pushes at you. It’s content to just be itself. Should you spend the effort to focus on it then it is generous with its rewards, but should you not, it’s not going to make the first move.

For instance, in the excellent title track, there are beautiful little musical sparkles running below her already muted voice and percussion. You can spend the whole song chasing any one of them happily and then come back to do it again with a completely different strain. Small touches like the chimes and the barking dogs at the end substantially elevate the song as a whole. A trend through the album is ˙letting each song fade with the band noodling and Apple vocalizing and this both highlights and expands the music. They like messing with noise here, but instead of the tortured guitars of 90s alternative, this is gentle, gossamer noise. It’s the sound between radio stations at night. Instead of breaking the song down, it builds upon the foundation that it set.

“Fetch The Bolt Cutters” also has fantastic storytelling and sharp lines through it. “And you maim when you’re on offense / But you kill when you’re on defense” is a great couplet. The quiet, but determined, music works excellently against the dark humanity of the lyrics. It finds exactly the right tone to communicate a very specific feeling, that of understanding that it’s time to cut the links with a person. This is a very understated song in an already understated album and quietly one of the best in here.

The writing here can often be excellent. The album is exceptionally coherent and so the storytelling comes through strong. “Rack of His” is a clever and honest song built around a sublime pun and ”Newspaper” is sharp story. “I wonder what lies he’s telling you about me / To make sure that we’ll never be friends” is lean and yet complete. There’s nothing more that needs to be said after a line like that. On top of that, the music is inventive and unexpected. It’s pinned well by the percussion, but it’s very pleasingly jagged. It’s never quite where you expect it to be.

The album then takes a turn for the softer with “Ladies.” It’s softer and simpler than the rest of the album, but it makes for a lovely break because it’s a lovely song. She’s able to belt out vocals when she needs to and the bravery of the repeated “ladies” in the song is amazing to see. Also, having the song be a plea for cooperation and then ending it with the garbled, mumbled refrain of “Yet another woman to whom I won’t get through” is a body blow.

Unfortunately, from here we get to much of my issue with the album. “Heavy Balloon” is just too simple a song, especially right after “Ladies.” The blues in it should work well, but it just compounds the problem. The metaphor here is too weak to carry the song and so the whole song breaks down. It’s almost rescued by the instrumental ending. Deemphasizing the lyrics allows the music to really speak and it’s foot-stomping fun. The ending is one of the best parts of the album, but the core of the song is just too weak. Similarly, the following song “Cosmonauts” is great to listen to, especially once it takes off and just goes hard into the chant. However, the core simile, though clever at first glance, is just nonsense.

This problem is even worse with a few of the opening songs. “Shameika” has a kindergartner stomping around in it. It’s a heavy pace that’s childish and fun and the Alice-down-the-rabbithole bridge is excellent. However, the bullying just doesn’t have any heft to it. There’s too much comfort in the song. Similarly, “Relay” has a catchy chorus that’s anthemic, which is amazing given the meaning in it. That Apple wrote it at fifteen should be amazing, but the couplet of “Evil is a relay sport / where the one who’s burnt turns to pass the torch” sounds like it was written by a fifteen-year old and that takes a lot away from the song. It’s just too naive for me.

This is still all strong music though. “Under The Table” is too privileged in its politics for me, but the music is incredible. The couplet of “I would beg to disagree / But begging disagrees with me” is too wealthy a couplet for my taste with the dinner parties that it evokes, but the song fades it repeatedly into the background near the end and that’s excellent. Also, when she sings “I’d like to buy you a pair of pillow-soled hiking boots / to help you with your climb / Or rather, to help the bodies that you step over along your route / So they won’t hurt like mine”, the lyrics finally match the cleverness of the music and it’s sublime. I just wish that the album was more able to consistently line the two sides up. The songs with the best music tend to weak lyrics and those with the sharpest lyrics have music that, while extremely good, is not quite as great as the best here and the result is that there’s no single here that sticks with me.

These flaws are the exception, not the rule though. This is a stellar album. The opener “I Want You To Love Me” has a nice, arboreal sound to it. It’s a country song, but the country is a woodland. “For Her” places a nice summer pop sound against harsh lyrics, including the memorable “Well, good morning / Good morning / You raped me in the bed your daughter was born in.” That’s the kind of thing that wakes you right up. “Drumset” is the same kind of brutal in the lyrics, but manages to be healing nonetheless. Finally, the closer “On I Go” is a very intelligent set of variations on a repeated chorus that gives the album a good, open-ended sound. It leaves you with the feeling that the album hasn’t ended, it has just left space for you to fill in with your life.

This is an exceptional album all told. This is some of the best music that I’ve heard in a long while. There are enough issues here to hold it back from being a true masterpiece, but it’s still an astonishing accomplishment. This is the best album of Fiona Apple’s career and a highlight of the year. You should definitely check it out.

Fresh New Voice: An Interview with Navya Sharma

22 Apr

Navya Sharma is a Bombay-based musician who’s all set to take the indie music scene by storm. His indie-folk style and his percussive guitar work give him a distinctive and unmistakeably fresh sound that has kept us hooked. Not to mention his lyrical prowess, a skill he’s honed over years of listening, writing and performing. 

See for yourself, with his track “New Routine”, in which Navya’s penchant for rhythm is clear. His excellent lyrical work (“I was just guessing when you left me with this doubt / Holding the stars for you in case you let me out”) has a sort of wistful beauty to it that only adds to the replay value that this track has.

We caught up with Navya earlier this week for a quick conversation about his musical style, influences and upcoming plans!

Top Five Records: We’d love to get to know your story! To begin with, can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Navya Sharma: I’m 25, I write songs and I’m currently based out of Bombay. 

TFR: 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?

NS: This is a question I love answering. I have this very specific memory of being around ten years old and holding in my hands the vinyl record, Walk Don’t Run by The Ventures from 1964. My dad had this big collection of vinyls and I remember him putting The Ventures on one night when he got home from work. That was the first time I’d heard the tone of a beefy heavy-duty American Fender through some powerful tube amplifiers. Vinyls were these very physical objects too, almost as if you could touch the music. I remember picking up a toy cricket bat and riffing crazy pretend-guitar to the song as my mum looked on laughing. My dad had successfully introduced me to rock ‘n roll.

TFR: We at TFR hear a touch of retro and a bit of Bob Dylan in your tunes! What would you say are your biggest musical influences? Not just other musicians; what’s influenced you as a musician?

NS: That’s a very accurate guess, maybe I ought to work on making it a little less obvious.

I’ve always been keen on the expression aspect of a song; the story it tells. Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Damien Rice would probably be the Holy Trinity for me. John Prine, Mark Knopfler, Tom Waits, Mick Flannery would be some others. I learnt to believe that my contribution to music would strictly be songwriting as a medium for honest expression. How my songs resonate with people is none of my business. 

I learnt to believe that my contribution to music would strictly be songwriting as a medium for honest expression.

TFR: We can’t stop listening to your debut single, “Freedom Town”! The upbeat tune and the slightly darker subject matter create an interesting juxtaposition that has us intrigued. Can you tell us more about this track? What’s the story behind it, and what was the songwriting process like for you?

NS: I’m still half-trying to figure out where that song came out of, which is probably why I’m so proud of my work on Freedom Town, haha! I think it’s mostly about feeling a certain disconnect. The three verses talk about three different characters: a young person fighting vanity and feeling like a fake, another guy fantasizing about shooting up a movie theater and Juliet, the cut away lover. All of these characters concur on that mutual feeling of disconnect: how mainstream music on the radio doesn’t make sense to them and how they fail to relate with their friends’ conversations. At the end of the day, they just find themselves restless thinking love can save them. Or something like that, heck if I know.

Oh and shout out to Rounak Chawla for playing the best solo I could have asked for on the track too.

TFR: What’s on the horizon for you? Any new music coming out? Perhaps a debut album soon? Or something else entirely?

NS: An EP soon! I’ve been writing so much we just have to pick the songs that sound minimally shitty and put the record out. We were just testing the waters with this release and now I can’t hardly wait to be honest.

Thanks, Navya! And now, let’s get a few quick answers out of you with our Rapid-Fire Round. Ready?

TFR: What are your Top Five Desert Island Records?  (i.e., five albums that you would be fine listening to, without access to any other music, for the rest of your life?)

NS: Golden Heart by Mark Knopfler; Use Your Illusion I & II, Blonde on Blonde by Bob Dylan; O by Damien Rice

TFR: What about recent times? What albums or songs have been on repeat for you lately?

NS: Divinely Uninspired to a Hellish Extent by Lewis Capaldi! Such refreshing honesty in Pop music

TFR: What’s been your favourite gig so far (and why)?

NS: Been a few. I’ve lately enjoyed solo intimate sets a little more than getting the boys and bringing a whole band behind me. (Which is awesome fun too, don’t get me wrong.) Getting a bunch of strangers to enjoy mostly fresh stuff on the first listen is a neat challenge and I love it.

TFR: Your dream collab? (Indian or International)

NS: Can we bring back Janis Joplin from the dead if we’re dreaming anyway?

TFR: Haha, nice one. And an Indian artist you’re really digging right now?

NS: Karshni Nair and Meera Desai.

You can find Navya’s music on Spotify, Soundcloud, YouTube and pretty much wherever else you get your music.

The Strokes – The New Abnormal

19 Apr

We last saw the Strokes with the three-song Future Present Past EP in summer 2016. The rather on-the-nose concept was that each song represented the eponymous phases of the Strokes, from futuristic “Drag Queen” to stylish “OBLIVIUS” to old-school “Threat of Joy”. With their sixth album The New Abnormal, it feels like the Strokes don’t think of themselves in quite so discrete terms – and the result is an inventive, cool and highly-listenable sixth album.

Famously, there is such a thing as “the Strokes sound”. Most songs on their first two records followed a precise formula: Interlocked guitars from Albert Hammond Jr. and Nick Valensi precisely sync with Fab Moretti’s machine-like beats and Nikolai Fraiture’s basslines, with Julian Casablancas’ unstructured vocals adding an exactly asynchronous vocal texture. It’s a carefully free-spirited aesthetic – the sonic equivalent of a get-the-bedhead-look hairspray or a tailored leather jacket (both of which were no doubt in their early wardrobes).

On The New Abnormal, there are certainly songs like these, but they’re often layered with more innovative elements that we first saw in Angles (2011) and Comedown Machine (2013). “Why Are Sundays So Depressing” is a traditional Strokes song – Velvet Underground-esque vocals set to crystal-clear beats – but there’s a pulsing, hypnotic underline that adds unusual heft to the humdrum. Album opener “The Adults are Talking” is as Strokes-y as they come, with a crisp riff that instantly pulls you in, but its latter portions involve jagged zingers from Hammond and Valensi, and, improbably, a Chris Martin-style falsetto half-verse from Casablancas.

And it’s not just the Strokes’ own repertoire that seems to have provided inspiration. In the album-free wilderness years from 2013’s Comedown Machine, every one of the Strokes embarked on a solo career – some successful and some not. As the rock-star cliché goes, these side projects were the result of a growing schism between the band members; but on The New Abnormal, these fractured elements have been successfully pulled into the main act.

For example, Casablancas definitely had his Voidz hat on when he wrote the magnificent “At the Door” –the dense, palpable sadness in his voice contrasted only against sludgy synths. The lyrics (“Use me like an oar / get yourself to shore”) are stark and chilling – a bit unusual coming from the erstwhile kings of nonchalance. “Selfless”, a simple, pretty ditty, is cut from a similar cloth as Fab Moretti’s too-shortlived Little Joy project, while “Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus” is filled with the sort of irrepressible Hammond riffs last seen on his well-received Francis Trouble (2018).

The overall sonic cohesion on the album, despite so many disparate pieces, is due in large part to Rick Rubin. The master producer has produced for a vast and varied list, from Run-DMC to Metallica to Justin Timberlake, and that genre-bending prowess has left its mark on The New Abnormal. For example, dance-pop track “Bad Decisions” is smoothly segued into the moody Childish Gambino-meets-the-Weeknd “Eternal Summer” – not an easy feat. The production on “Ode to the Mets” is startlingly beautiful – a kaleidoscope of quiet fury, nostalgia, wistfulness and everything in between (per the band, it’s an ode to the idea of a perennial failure).

And finally – the name. When the Strokes announced the album on February 10th at a Bernie Sanders rally, the world was unimaginably different. There was a mysterious virus in China, but they seemed to have controlled it; Bernie was leading the race for President in a bid to finally lift America out of modern-day feudalism; and so on. Exactly two months later, on April 10th – the day of their album release: that mysterious virus had taken more than 18,000 lives in America; Bernie had thrown in the towel two days prior; and a global recession now looms on the horizon. The New Abnormal, the Calpurnia of our times, couldn’t have been more perfectly titled.

Honestly, the only thing the Strokes had to do on their sixth record was to sound like the Strokes. Happily, they’ve overdelivered: a congruent Strokes-plus-plus. The New Abnormal is not the best thing they’ve ever done – Casablancas himself rates it his fourth-favorite output – but it’s proven that there’s more to the Strokes.

Best tracks: The Adults are Talking, Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus, Ode to the Mets

Empress Of – I’m Your Empress Of

17 Apr

As albums go, there are far harder ones to sell someone on than I’m Your Empress Of. It’s frothy, compelling pop led by the skill of Empress Of herself. “Bit of Rain” starts the album with a great synth beat that’s elevated by her voice and it’s got sex both poetic and fleshy. “Not The One” is similarly a highlight both for the honesty in the sex and honesty in the singing.

It’s a very consistent album, there’s no bad music here. However, there are also just not enough highlights either. Something like “Love Is A Drug” is very well crafted, but lacks a little inspiration. There’s a lot of good music in this album, but not quite enough that sticks to you. I’m Your Empress Of is a good pop diversion and it doesn’t need to be anything more.

Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia

13 Apr

If you were still wondering whether disco has truly made a comeback in 2020, look no further than Dua Lipa’s sophomore album, Future Nostalgia . With a stark departure from the dance-pop sensibilities of her eponymous debut album, Dua Lipa brings her modern spin on retro-fabulous to the table. Yet somehow, it’s not all disco. Lipa has managed to concoct a dance album that simultaneously draws inspiration from three decades of pop music – yet feels fresh, fun and timeless.

Dua Lipa has always been a Cool Girl™. She’s suave, she’s a sharp dresser, and she’s seemingly stolen Lady Gaga’s spot as a pop queer icon (at least until Chromatica drops later this year). Future Nostalgia feels like the first time that she’s dropped the image and just had fun with it, for a change.

If you’re looking for deep lyrical content on this album, then you’re barking up the wrong tree. Most tracks on this album are sexually-charged love songs or radio-pop anthems peppered with cookie-cutter feminist slogans. But there’s no denying that Dua Lipa knows how to make a good pop banger that gets you moving.

The album opens strong with “Future Nostalgia”, a song that clearly spells out Lipa’s thesis statement for the album (“You want a timeless song, I wanna change the game”). “Don’t Start Now” is an upbeat heartbreak anthem, a strange juxtaposition of themes that shouldn’t work, but somehow does – and incredibly well, too. With “Physical”, a dancercise-style synth-pop track, Dua Lipa embraces the retro sound to her advantage. The chorus is a direct reference to Olivia Newton-John’s 1981 hit “Let’s Get Physical”, and she employs a classic 80s song structure, complete with a hand-clapping bridge section. Yet somehow, the track feels modern and light, all while giving you the intense urge to throw on a pair of spandex and (poorly) follow along with a Jazzercise VHS tape.

Out of the eleven tracks on the album, the first ten of them could be individually released as successful lead singles- it’s just one frenetic synth-pop disco dream after the next. The stand-out pieces, though, are neatly nestled in the middle of the tracklist. “Levitating”, an interstellar-themed track with deceptively simple vocal work, sounds like it was copped straight from The Weeknd’s repertoire. Not surprising, since Lipa herself names Daft Punk (along with Madonna, Gwen Stefani and Kylie Minogue to name a few) as one of her muses for her new “retro-futuristic” sound. With the heavy pounding choruses and dreamy verses on “Hallucinate”, Dua Lipa explores Europop, a frequently overlooked relic of the 80s and 90s that hasn’t seen much traction since the Spice Girls era of pop.

That isn’t to say that this album is perfect. “Good in Bed”, a Lily Allen-style bop, has some of the worst rhymes we’ve seen (- bad – sad – mad -), and will incessantly annoy you with how catchy this objectively trashy track is. That’s another bone to pick with Dua Lipa’s work: the vacant lyrical content.  Sure, most pop stars have always stuck to a handful of topics – usually love, romance and heartbreak – but you’d expect something more, thematically speaking, from a modern feminist pop icon like Dua Lipa. However, the one time she does try to explore a different subject matter on “Boys Will Be Boys”, it falls entirely flat. Dua Lipa means well with this number as she attempts to speak up about women’s rights and gender roles, but she ends up putting a sudden and final damper on an otherwise fun, upbeat and perfect pop album.

But maybe, given the state of the world in April 2020, a groovy dance-your-way-through-the-decades style pop album is what we need right now. There’s a reason disco makes a comeback every few years- it’s fun, it’s uplifting, and most importantly it’s infectious! Dua Lipa has truly perfected the art of a perfect pop album. You can throw it on, dance it out and take her advice to heart: “Don’t take yourself too seriously and just have fun with it!”

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