Spilling the Beans with Iyer’s Filter Coffee

7 Jul
L-R: Rushil Mishra, Sachin Iyer, Pushkar Ravindra, Dennis Dey

Garage band Iyer’s Filter Coffee has been making waves in India for a couple of years now. Back in 2018, their first track “Soma” garnered buzz among Indian indie audiences, and the song later featured on their crisp five-song EP coldturkey (2019). In May 2020, the band released their first, full-length album Is This How You Do It.

With references ranging from The Strokes to fellow Indian indie rockers The F16s, Is This How You Do It has quite a few high-energy tracks and some poignant, more mellow ones, too. A particular stand-out is boisterous, Arctic Monkeys-esque first single “Noize”, which caught our eye back in May. We also liked the subtler back-to-back tracks “Deytime” (spelling a reference to bassist Dennis Dey) and “Nitetime”, the latter of which served solid Comedown Machine vibes.

We caught up with the boys from Iyer’s Filter Coffee for a chat about their musical journey, managing a music career alongside day jobs, what’s behind their peculiar band name, and lots more – read on below!

Top Five Records: Welcome, guys, and thanks for doing this! Let’s start at the beginning. How did the four of you meet? How did you end up deciding to make music together?

Iyer’s Filter Coffee: Rushil [Mishra, guitar / vocals], Sachin [Iyer, drums] and Pushkar [Ravindra, guitar / vocals] went to the same college [BITS Pilani] where they were part of the music club and played together quite a bit. After all three of them landed in Bangalore, we started to jam in early middle 2017 with vision to eventually be able to perform in the Bangalore pub circuit. Dennis [Dey, bass / vocals] and Pushkar happened to become flat-mates around the same time. Since Dennis was also a musician, he joined us in these jams and eventually Iyer’s Filter Coffee was born.

TFR: Interesting! And when did your interests in music begin? When did you start honing your musical skills?

Pushkar: I was forced, like a significant number of South Indian kids are, to learn South Indian classical music by my parents. This happened between the ages of six and 13. And then I discovered metal. My parents bought me an acoustic guitar right after my Class 10 exams. I learnt everything I know about the guitar via the Internet (though a background in music helped accelerate the process). Bought my first electric guitar a day before my AIEEE [All-India Engineering Entrance Examination]. It’s been going on since.

Sachin: I started playing the drums soon after my Class 10 exams – my childhood friends wanted to form a band, and they were short of a drummer, so I decided to fill in. I’m largely a self-taught drummer, so the Music Club at BITS was great not only for the opportunity to play live quite often, but also for the chance to learn from some really talented musicians.

Rushil: My father got me classes for the keyboard when I was around five. Since my family moved cities every two to three years, I couldn’t continue with it for long. I did briefly learn some tabla and classical singing (which I absolutely hated). I did keep playing some keyboard until I got to BITS Pilani in 2010. That’s where I started with most of the “technical” skills – playing the keyboard correctly, learning my scales, and working with synths. I also started playing some guitar there, and got a bit better after college because of how accessible it is (and because I thought it was a bit cooler to be honest; I was wrong). I started writing music with some friends in 2015 using GarageBand and a really basic setup. “Lazy Day” [which appears on Is This How You Do It] was one of the first tracks we wrote back then, and has been rewritten multiple times since then. This is the first group that I’ve sung with though, so I’m pretty new to singing right now.

Dennis: Lucky for me my dad is also a guitarist, so I grew up listening to Dire Straits, Scorpions, Eric Clapton and other amazing artists. Initially, I started with keyboard but switched to guitar around Class 10 (after realizing the aforementioned coolness factor). Initially a rhythm guitarist, as Dad was shredding most of the solos, I picked up lead and bass guitar in college (IIT Roorkee 2010). Bass guitar was something that stuck with me even after college and I bought a used bass guitar with my first salary. Also, I was a part of the church choir at Roorkee where I learnt how to harmonize, something that I’ve been using for backing vocals with the band.

Happiness is rarely found in a day job, and hence the music career. Money is rarely found in a music career, and hence the day job.

TFR: You have mentioned the Black Keys and the Strokes as your influences, and we certainly hear those references in the contrasting tight / laidback elements in your tunes. What are some other influences to your music – musicians or otherwise?

IFC: We have always had an ear out for alternative genres of music. The Strokes, Black Keys and the Arctic Monkeys most definitely inspired us to lay the foundations on our sound, which you can see on coldturkey [their 2019 EP]. Apart from that, I think we have a newfound love towards newer indie artists like Rex Orange County, Boy Pablo and the F16s, who have inspired us to find a new direction for our sound. However, all four of us have listened to our share of rock music from the 90s and the 2000s which has definitely contributed to how we play and how we write on an individual and a group level.

Also, the post-punk-revival sound was something we wanted to build around – bands like Muse, Libertines, Two Door Cinema Club and Franz Ferdinand. That fused with a bit of the new wave of indie music is what most of our sound written as a group sounds like. Of course, we all also have our own influences which we keep adding into the process as we finish the songs up.

TFR: How have you navigated the journey from Engineering to indie rock? How has your experience been, balancing your day jobs with a burgeoning music career?

IFC: It has been fun honestly. Happiness is rarely found in a day job, and hence the music career. Money is rarely found in a music career, and hence the day job. Like we mentioned in our TEDx talk, it’s been One for the kitchen, One for the soul for us!

Honestly though, writing and producing music would happen a lot faster if we did not have the day jobs, because there’s more time to channel the creativity, and an ample amount of time because the group isn’t forced to jam on weekends only.

TFR: What’s the story behind the name? Is [drummer] Sachin [Iyer] the inspiration?

IFC: We couldn’t think of a good name for the group at all. There were many below par suggestions. We tried out names like 1023 (when we still did not have gig), Geek Chutney, and many others that were thrown away minutes after inception.

All suggestions from Iyer, who probably was channeling his inner Alex Rose, seemed contain his name. These included “Iyer Learns to Rock” and “Iyer Learns to Groove” and “Iyer and the Boys”. Iyer’s Filter Coffee, one such suggestion, seemed to stick because it does not sound like a band’s name. It sounds like the name of a cafe (which is the backup idea if this music thing doesn’t work). So yeah, it just sorta stuck and we seemed to like it.

As a side note, we have other joke names for ourselves in the same fashion. “Mishraji ka Paan Bhandaar” after Rushil Mishra, and “Robindro Sangeet” after Pushkar Ravindra. Dennis Dey might be a little disappointed that “Deytime” has now become a song!

TFR: Your EP coldturkey [Ed. Note: Our review here] released last year on Apple Music’s New Artist Spotlight program. How did you get that opportunity? And more broadly, what advice would you give to young and upcoming artists such as yourselves that want to break into the Indian indie scene?

IFC: Tejas Menon connected us with Apple Music, and after listening to the EP, they got back to us with their New Artist Spotlight program which enabled us to have a two-week exclusive release on Apple Music. Our distributor OKListen was quick to help and worked with the launch dates accordingly.

For new artists, we would like to say just put your music out there. Soundcloud and YouTube are great free platforms to do so in the beginning.  Also, videos matter a lot too. Dennis has this habit of recording our live gigs, which in turn helped us get more gigs and eventually became parts of our music videos. So just shoot videos or ask (bribe) your friends to do that for you.

TFR: Congrats again on the new album! Can you walk us through your process writing and recording Is This How You Do It? How was your experience working with Vivek Thomas?

IFC: We were writing even while we were recording coldturkey. We had almost a third of this album back then itself. The lessons learnt from coldturkey allowed us to revisit these songs, and improve and polish them further before we hit the studio. Also, in that time, we learnt more music, listened to more music and consciously tried to expand on our writing as well, which is reflected in this album.

Working with Vivek [Thomas, producer] was an amazing experience. He is a delightful and cheerful personality that makes working with him feel natural and a lot of fun. He understood our sound from the very beginning, not only with the way he dug through our inspirations but also with how well he knows and understands the scene. His touch really added a whole new dimension and color to our work.

TFR: Our favorite track from your album is first single “Noize” – we’ve already talked up the Josh Homme-era Arctic Monkeys vibes here on Top Five Records. Can you fill us in on your inspiration for this song, both musically and lyrically?

IFC: “Noize” was a unique song in that it was the only song that was written from the drum riff up, which is never the first thing we put on paper while writing. Pushkar brought his Morello-inspired wah guitar on top which was complemented by Dennis’ very melodic bass line.

Lyrics wise, it is loosely based on a prose that Rushil wrote which was condensed into a lyric so as to put something on top of the instruments.
We’ve been covering Arctic Monkeys for a while so we’re sure that someone who listens to “Noize” can hear elements of “Crying Lightning” or “Fake Tales of San Francisco” or maybe even hints of “Brianstorm”. The drums and the lyrics are very Monkeys, definitely.

TFR: Another favorite is the instrumental “Nitetime”, probably because it somewhat reminds us of that oft-forgotten Strokes gem, “Call It Fate, Call It Karma”. How did you end up putting such a stylistically different track on the album?

Rushil: Comedown Machine is such an underrated album! [Ed. Note: Agreed.] I really like the synths they use in the whole album – very vintage, analog, 80s, Stranger Things vibes – and this was similar to Julian Casablancas’ solo projects. 

“Nitetime” has a bit of an interesting story though. Since we don’t play keys in jams, I had a rough idea what to play for the song – some piano through the song, with some airy sounds towards the end of the song. For the album, he wanted to do a short extension to the song with a similar sound palette. I ended up knitting a few short pieces I’d written over time in the studio, and arranged it in the studio. 

I think the chord progressions in the two songs are somewhat similar, and the synths are similar to the Strokes’ / Julian’s work in some of their more ambient songs, too.

TFR: Naturally, you probably did not expect your album to release in the middle of a global pandemic. But now that it’s here – how are you getting the word out about Is This How You Do It in the COVID era?

IFC: We were ready with the album early March and were working towards setting up a country-wide tour. However, those plans took a backseat due to the pandemic. As a launch tour wasn’t an option in the near future, we decided to put the music out for the listeners.

More than us, our friends and fans helped us put the word out for the album. There were a lot of Instagram stories shared with the songs from the album. Also “NewNew” made it to the Spotify playlist Rock in India which also helped in getting new listeners. We are also releasing music videos for the songs slowly and are planning to do a livestream launch gig too.

TFR: With an EP and an album under your belt, what’s next on the radar for Iyer’s Filter Coffee?

IFC: Interestingly, we think the band would have gone into a temporary hiatus if not for COVID, because of personal situations of certain members that would have geographically separated the group. So, COVID was a blessing in disguise in that way, because we are still together and writing more.

We are trying to improve in the craft and bring in a lot more to the table than we did in the past. It would be best to get some writing done now before we eventually start gigging again. As of now, there is no clear picture of what is coming next. But stay tuned to your social media because you never know when we decide to drop a single!

RAPID-FIRE QUESTIONS

TFR: Who’s an Indian artist that you’d love to open for / collaborate with?

IFC: Open for: TAAQ. Collaborate: Peter Cat Recording Co, Skrat, the F16s.

TFR: What would be your Desert Island discs?

  • Pushkar: Led Zeppelin I by Led Zeppelin;  Is This It by the Strokes
  • Sachin: By the Way by Red Hot Chili Peppers; Chapter V by Staind; Undertow by Tool
  • Rushil: Random Access Memories by Daft Punk; Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not by Arctic Monkeys; Mm.. Food by MF DOOM
  • Dennis: Avenged Sevenfold by Avenged Sevenfold; Being So Normal by Peach Pit; Absolution by Muse

TFR: What’s been your favorite gig so far?

IFC: It’s between Oasis [BITS Pilani’s cultural festival], Zomaland 2020 or the coldturkey launch gig at the Humming Tree.

TFR: What’s an album or song on heavy rotation right now?

  • Pushkar: “BTFL” by Abhi the Nomad 
  • Sachin: Tourist History by Two Door Cinema Club
  • Rushil: “Memory Box” by Peter Cat Recording Co
  • Dennis: Apricot Princess by Rex Orange County

Visit the Iyer’s Filter Coffee website to stay updated on the band!

Monthly Playlist: Jun. 2020

2 Jul

We are now past the halfway mark of this hellish year. One silver lining, though, is the sheer volume of great music that seems to be coming out of artists young and new. Living legends Neil Young and Bob Dylan both released new albums, days of each other, as did rising stars like Phoebe Bridgers and HAIM. Read on for our breakdown of five standout tracks from June 2020.

5. “Kitchen Sink” by Nadine Shah

British-Pakistani singer-songwriter Nadine Shah has what one would call a striking voice: deep, resonant and able to convey as much with her notes as with her pauses. On the eponymous song from her fourth album Kitchen Sink, Shah’s voice precisely fills the gaps between two piano notes, discordant guitars and gospel-like handclaps. In the lyrics, Shah seems to be giving herself a sermon – to let go and stop caring about the mean things that people say. “Don’t worry about what the neighbors think / They’re characters from kitchen sink,” she states mysteriously, before breaking into the song’s chant of a chorus: “And I just let them pass me by.”

4. “I’m Alive” by TTRRUUCES

TTRRUUCES have all the markings of a future breakout act. Like many a musical star, they are unusual with a conviction.  Leaving aside their lackadaisical name, they describe their self-titled debut album as an operatic story of Sad Girl Sadie and Lost Boy Syd in the search for, strangely, a drug called TTRRUUCES. Beyond the character names and thematic elements, there’s a sense of seedy psychedelic underbelly (think Charles Manson) on “I’m Alive” that just draws you in. It’s just a catchy tune overall and we aren’t the only ones who’ve noticed – “I’m Alive” is on the FIFA 2020 soundtrack.

3. “JU$T” by Run the Jewels feat. Pharrell Williams and Zack de la Rocha

Just the sheer combined talent of Killer Mike, El-P, Pharrell Williams and Zack de la Rocha would lead one to think that “JU$T” would be a straight-up hit, and thankfully the song doesn’t disappoint. We’ve already spoken about it in our review of this year’s most important record, RTJ4, but it’s worth rehashing. “JU$T” is packed with hard-hitting critiques (as are most RTJ songs) with lines such as “The Thirteenth Amendment says that slavery’s abolished / Look at all these slave masters posin’ on yo’ dollar”. Moreover, with Pharrell in the mix, these lines are hidden in crisp, swaggering beats that could almost make you think this is just a summertime banger.

2. “EXHALE” by Kenzie feat. Sia

Speaking of Pharrell, young pop singer Kenzie channels Skateboard P himself on the highly enjoyable “EXHALE”. On the surface, it’s a pop song, but once the bass and drums-loaded chorus pumps through, you know this is a different kind of deal. To sweeten the pot, the song features Aussie hitmaker Sia on a choice verse or two. And let’s be honest, with the way 2020 is going, everyone needs to hear their advice here: “You need to, you need to exhale so let everything go / Baby, you in control”. Fun fact: Kenzie aka Mackenzie Zeigler is the younger sister of Maddie Zeigler, the famous dancing wunderkind in Sia’s break-out track “Chandelier”; we’re definitely glad the family connections got Sia involved here!

1. “False Prophet” by Bob Dylan

In June, Bob Dylan released his 39th (!) feature album, roughly half a century (!!) after his debut album. There is possibly no other living artist who could pull this off, but this 39th album, Rough and Rowdy Ways, is quickly turning out to be one of his best (yet). “False Prophet” features a fairly sparse instrumentation and Dylan’s truly inimitable voice. He growls, laughs, boasts, flirts – sometimes all within a ten-second stretch. If you heard this track out of nowhere, you would think it’s at least a couple of decades old; it feels that well-worn and classic. For a song that sounds like it could have by itself birthed the blues, it’s almost fathomable that it was released just this year; but that’s Dylan for you. At 79, this guy sure is alive and kicking, the end times be damned.

Be sure to check out all of our 2020 song picks on our handy Spotify playlist!

Norah Jones – Pick Me Up Off The Floor

29 Jun

There’s nothing extraneous in Pick Me Up Off The Floor. It’s stripped down in the way of lo-fi rock, but has sort of come to it from the other side. There’s just a sublime confidence in this music. It never overwhelms. It just takes things out one at a time, gives you time to examine it and then puts it away so that you can see what’s next. It knows that everything it has for you is worth your consideration and so there’s no need to hurry you along.

It has the cleverness to justify that confidence too. Right from the opener of “How I Weep” which draws out the first two words into a hurried “weep” at the jump and then draws out that same “weep” on the next go-around. Norah Jones’ singing is impressive as ever. Her voice has the strength to pull off all her gambits and fluid enough to work as well in the barnstorming blues of “Flame Twin” as in the country / gospel ballad of “To Live.” It’s clever and jagged in “Say No More” and yet filled with personality and irresistibly seductive. She dances across genres with very light feet and never stumbles once. There’s not a single point here where she feels less than completely in control.

Furthermore, it’s a sharp enough tool to need little else. The stark structure of “Were You Watching” would have been repetitive with a lesser musician, but between her voice and the clean piano, there’s just no need for anything else. This is a delicate, understated album and an achievement as one. In a turbulent time, it is a respite to have this album playing. It might have benefitted from delving deeper into the current moment than it does. There are references to the world right now studded throughout the album, but there’s also a lot that floats context free. Still, it floats so beautifully that it’s hard to complain.

It is very satisfying that Pick Me Up Off The Floor is the perfect sound to get up to after a fall. It’s always the dream that you build something from an experience that helps others with the same one. I’m listening to the soft, noodling instrumental piece at the end of the final song “Heaven Above” as I write this and it has been a hard and disappointing day and this is the gentleness that I’ve forgotten I need. This is a deep breath and a quick stroke on the back before I get up and now, I get up.

Run the Jewels – RTJ4

20 Jun

With their debut album RTJ in 2013, hip-hop super-duo Run the Jewels broke the mold of what intelligent, anti-establishment rap would look like. Naturally, they then proceeded to create even better versions, with the well-received RTJ2 (2014) and RTJ3 (2016). In that time, Killer Mike and El-P have also been hugely successful in a commercial sense, sound-tracking everything from Black Panther to FIFA18.

But despite this commercial utilization of their music, Run the Jewels is, at their crux, an anti-establishment act. Like their pre-COVID planned tour-mates Rage Against the Machine, Run the Jewels excel in just that – raging against the Machine, whether that’s the police, racists, or the wealthy.

In the summer of 2020, the world is battling the triple threat of a global pandemic, racism and wealth inequality. In that environment, Run the Jewels’ latest output RTJ4 is prescient and essential – and to put it bluntly, the record of the moment.

Throughout the album, RTJ make mincemeat of current times with chilling lines that were, astonishingly, recorded sometime in 2019. On album opener “Yankee and the brave”, the zeitgeist fire delivers stinging burns. “Pardon them as they work until every pocket’s been picked and soul been harvested / I’m ready to mob on these fucking charlatans,” announces El-P, while Killer Mike follows up with a could-have-been-recorded-yesterday swipe at police brutality: “A crooked copper got the dropper, I put lead in his eye / ‘Cause we heard he murdered a black child, so none of us cried.” An eye for an eye indeed.

 “Walking in the Snow” sees El-P delivering a searing indictment of Trump-era pseudo-Christians (“Kids in prisons ain’t a sin? Shit / If even one scrap a what Jesus taught connected, you’d feel different”). The fantastic “JU$T” drops a deep thought: “The Thirteenth Amendment says that slavery’s abolished / Look at all these slave masters posin’ on yo’ dollar”; and somehow, this aligns perfectly with statues being pulled off their pedestals across the world just in the past few days.

But Killer Mike and El-P aren’t just eerily clairvoyant – they’re also eerily intelligent. We are so used to mainstream low-IQ rap that it’s honestly a thrill to hear clever, laugh-out-loud brags. For example, on “Out of Sight”, Killer Mike belts a stone-cold classic metaphor: “Colder than your baby mama heart when she find out you been fuckin’ with that other broad / And you ain’t got that rent for her”. Elsewhere, El-P casually drops the instant-classic line “Got a Vonnegut punch for your Atlas shrug” – pitting the socialist Kurt Vonnegut against the libertarianism of Ayn Rand (interestingly, of course, she herself clashes the same two archetypes on Atlas Shrugged, with Howard Roark and Ellsworth Toohey).

Yes, they’re intelligent. Yes, they’re anti-establishment. But lest you think this is a spoken-word recitation of the latest Jacobin issue, it must be said that this is, above all, a great music album.

Killer Mike and El-P are blessed with sonic gifts like few others.  “Out of Sight” in particular is a prime example of Killer Mike’s masterful flow, with four gerund-filled lines (“motivating, captivating, devastating…”) effortlessly hitting beats that you didn’t realize existed. El-P isn’t far behind; on “Holy Calamafuck”, for example, he plays with the same vowel sound on about 12 different words. The album is also packed with great riffs. We’ve already gushed about the fun single “Ooh La La” but don’t underestimate the hook on the aforementioned Pharrell Williams-Zach de la Rocha double-feature “Ju$t”.

Run the Jewels have been railing against all forms of injustice for their entire lives. But now, in a perfect storm of Black Swan-like events, the world has caught up to them. Like Killer Mike’s political hero Bernie Sanders, they get extra credit not just for saying the right things, but for having always said the right things – even when they weren’t considered right.

RTJ4 is prophetic, thoughtful, complex – and most of all, highly enjoyable. Whether this album is better than its predecessors is really up to the listener, but this one will always be memorable for perfect alignment with the moment in which it was released.

Best tracks: “JU$T”, “Out of Sight”, “Ooh La La”

John Coltrane Quartet – Africa / Brass

17 Jun

It’s easy to latch on to the monkeys and elephants that show up partway through the first piece and hear the clear jungle noises there and think that this album is less than it is, but this is first and foremost excellent, inventive jazz. Like Olé Coltrane, which was released in the same year, the theme comes through strong and the jazz is richer for the flavor, but the soul of the album is in the superb hard bop that it’s built on.

Most interesting though is the big band that backs the quartet throughout. Adding the larger band of older styles of jazz adds a lot of swing, both in “Africa” and in “Blues Minor” and also shows what big band jazz could have been had the genre not shifted to more intimate groups. Between that and the jungle themes, “Africa” comes off as very reminiscent of possibly the best known verdant jazz of all, Louis Prima as King Louie in Disney’s version of The Jungle Book, something I’m always glad to be reminded of.

“Greensleeves” is another classic Coltrane pop track, taking as it does a British folk classic and effortlessly reimagining it as post-bop and “Blues Minor” is fearlessly improvisational. However, it is “Africa” that is the clear highlight. Elvin Jones has a stellar drum solo in there and as always, Trane’s sax work is unparalleled.

This is something a bit out of left field for Trane and he never did revisit the ideas he played with in this album, but that should in no way be taken to imply a misstep. This is, if anything, more special for its uniqueness. It’s a legitimate masterpiece and an essential album for any fan of this style of jazz.

@murthynikhil

Ka – Descendants of Cain

4 Jun

There’s nothing extraneous to Descendants of Cain. This is the leanest of lean cuts and glories in it. It’s serious, it’s to the point and it’s forceful throughout. Ka’s pairing of stripped down beats and muted raps is intense and claustrophobic. This album is a coffin that you’ve been sealed in with him.

He has plenty to tell you in there. The biblical theming played against the realities of his life is a strong conceit to build an album around. In “Patron Saints,” Ka uses this for irresistible storytelling and strong lines. The theming also just fits perfectly with the tone of the album. “My Brother’s Keeper” has an ominous, sunken beat and hushed rapping that just builds the scene. “Land of Nod” takes the same menace and has Ka change pace midway seamlessly.

However, here is the major flaw of the album. It bleeds together. There’s no real standout track in here and nothing to shake you out of the groove it lands you in. The closer “I Love (Mimi, Moms, Kev)” is softer and slower and might have done it, but it’s out of his range and he just can’t pull off the change in tone.

It’s still a strong album though. You have to respect something so single-minded and so proficient. Descendants of Cain is a solid addition to an always intriguing pocket of rap and one well worth listening to.

@murthynikhil

Monthly Playlist: May 2020

1 Jun

We are now far enough into the coronavirus pandemic for this new abnormal to percolate deep into our psyches. Artists are starting to contemplate the differences between Life Then and Life Now. For example: Little Simz, who we cover in the list below, wrote and released an entire mixtape in spite of – and in some ways, because of – her lockdown experiences. Equally as interestingly, we as listeners are starting to consume music differently. Perhaps that slick, braggadocio rap track now soundtracks your daily allotted fast-walking time. Perhaps punk rock pumps you up in the precious time between Zoom meetings where you really, actually do your office work. And so on.

The point being: our surroundings are perhaps irrevocably changed, at least for the near future, but music’s importance has not dimmed the slightest. And here are five tracks that were embedded deep into our daily lives this past month.

5. “Noize” by Iyer’s Filter Coffee

Clocking in at #5 this month is a tune from Iyer’s Filter Coffee, a garage rock band from India consisting of Rushil Mishra (guitar / vocals), Pushkar Ravindra (guitar / vocals), Dennis Dey (bass / vocals) and Sachin Iyer (drums). The band lists the Strokes and the Black Keys as musical touch-points, and does well to justify those influences. After a well-received first EP coldturkey last year, the boys are back this month with their first-full length debut, Is This How You Do It.

First single “Noize” from Is This How You Do It really caught our ears. The song could slot perfectly well on Arctic Monkey’s Humbug– sporting an uncannily similar mix of the same hard-hitting riffs and Queens of the Stone Age-style production as that 2009 album. “Noize” shines especially on the segues featuring rolling drums and fuzz-laden guitarwork which stick with you long after the song is over.

4. “Shook” by Tkay Maidza

Tkay Maidza, a Zimbabwean-origin Australian rapper, has been circling fame for some time now. Her 2014 single “Switch Lanes” made it to the prestigious Aussie radio channel Triple J’s Hottest 100 list (at #100, but still) – back when she was just 17. In 2016, her debut album Tkay reached #20 on the Australian charts, and included a track with the one and only Killer Mike. Tkay’s star has been rising for several years now, and all that comes to a head with the slick new track, “Shook”.

On this track, Tkay clearly channels Missy Elliott, from the brash enunciation to the butter-smooth, non-stop flow. She also has some great lines – “Then these frauds tryna fit in, got ’em playin’ tetris” comes particularly to mind. “Shook” puts Tkay high on our list of artists to watch for in 2020.

3. “Enemy” by slowthai

Speaking of slick rap, we have been blessed this month with a new track from the reigning king of British rap, slowthai. In the Before Times (February 2020), slowthai made news for a thorny NME Awards show – featuring thrown glass, thrown insults and ultimately a thrown-out slowthai. The incident resulted in a typical PR apology but slowthai hinted (aggressively) at his true feelings with a tweet that said, simply, “Keep my name out ur dirty mouth”.

Turns out, he wasn’t done reacting – he turned that tweet into a chilling riff on the new “Enemy”. Wonky, slow-burning beats interlock perfectly with that unmistakable slowthai bad-boy swagger – a mix of London attitude and unpredictable emotion on the delivery from line to line.

2. “Might bang, might not” by Little Simz

May 2020 was fantastic for British rap. Some truly memorable new acts are coming out of that rainy island, and one of those is Nigerian-origin, London-bred Little Simz. “Might bang, might not” is a smooth track from her new, economically-titled five-song mixtape Drop 6.

On this track, Little Simz shows off a clear, crisp flow, set over even crisper layers: a three-note bass line, basic beats and a pace set by what sounds like a single, digitized gasp. What’s most notable about this song and the entire mixtape is that Little Simz wrote and mixed the whole thing herself during quarantine lockdown, often battling mental health issues. If you liked this track, you should read about what it took for her to put it out – check it out here.

1. “A Hero’s Death” by Fontaines DC

After a ripper of a year with perhaps 2019’s best debut album, everyone’s favorite Irish punk band Fontaines DC are back with new single “A Hero’s Death”. This song lies somewhere between a poem and a speech, set to unyielding punk. Lead singer Grian Chatten snaps off line after line of advice, toeing the line between schoolmaster and preacher: the couplet “Don’t get stuck in the past, say your favorite things at mass / Tell your mother that you love her and go out of your way for others” is just one example. The song’s central line – “Life ain’t always empty” – especially sticks in your head, almost like a mantra. All in all, “A Hero’s Death” is the rare song that is equal parts hypnotic and raucous.

The song’s accompanying music video features fellow Irishman and prestige television star Aidan Gillen – a sign of the young band’s rising profile. “A Hero’s Death” is the eponymous first single off of their new album, which is scheduled to be released in July – we can’t wait.

Check out these songs and all others from our 2020 Monthly Playlists on our Spotify playlist here.

Charli XCX – how i’m feeling now

26 May

Pop is the medium of the present. Other genres can try to make an album that future generations will love or something that speaks to the older generation of established critics or just to be something their parents would listen to. Pop is about the now. Sometimes, like photos of ourselves from the nineties, we can only look back in bemusement, but that’s missing the point. how i’m feeling now is about just that, how I’m feeling right here and right now.

Make no mistake though, this is music of the present done very well. “claws” is a propulsive stream-of-consciousness with a chorus that extends exactly one beat longer than expected and is perfect for doing so. It forces the listener to pay attention and pulling out the phrase “I like” into the conclusion of “everything about you” is cute and yet intense in the way feelings are when you’re young. It’s some of the best pop that she has ever made.

She’s got that aesthetic down pat by now. “7 years” and “party 4 u” are good pop and very cute for that feeling of young love. Similarly, “i finally understand” puts a smile on your face for how well it expresses the feeling of being understood yourself. It’s upbeat and energetic and just feels happy. For an album about living in a pandemic, this is mostly a joyful album and it achieves that through just being honest. There is still a lot to celebrate in the now.

That’s one of the biggest strengths of how i’m feeling now, Charli brings the sincerity that great pop needs. It feels raw, it feels unpolished and it even feels a little rushed, but none of these detract. It’s not sloppy, it’s authentic. It’s straight from the feelings. It’s not an album to study, it’s one to experience in the moment. “pink diamond” opens the album strongly with just how uncompromising it is. The harsh noise and unforgiving beats hit you from the jump. It’s a very aggressive sound.

It’s also just masterful pop. Charli has been one of the most interesting musicians in pop for quite a while now and how i’m feeling now continues to prove how good an ear she has for pop. “detonate” is proper club pop in an age of no clubs and the breakdown at the end is genius for how it reminds you of that. “c2.0” has her at her most playful with her sounds. She lets pieces bubble into each other and burst through and it’s very clever. “enemy” has bright, blinding synths and while the lyrics never deliver on the promise, it doesn’t matter. It’s a shimmering, not a textbook.

This is an album of the moment and it’s transient in the way all pop must be. I don’t know if it will hold up at the end of the year or if it’s the kind of thing that I’ll ever come back to, but right here and right now, it’s perfect.

@murthynikhil

Rina Sawayama – SAWAYAMA

23 May

Nostalgia in pop is having a moment. The Weeknd and Dua Lipa, for instance, have mined this vein heavily, but no one has done it with the intelligence of Rina Sawayama. The trick to nostalgia is not to sound like what music used to sound like, but to sound like what you remember things to feel like. It’s not about the sound. It’s about the feel. I’m going to be honest, I wasn’t the most sophisticated of listeners in the early nineties and much of what I was listening to wasn’t that sophisticated either. Sawayama draws from wells like Korn, Evasnescence and above all Britney for the album, but through an astonishing alchemy serves something as sharp as any of the most experimental pop today.

The best tracks, “XS” and “Comme Des Garcons” have all of the energy of Britney, but with a complexity that it’s hard to imagine Britney bringing. “STFU!” is as hard and as fun as any Korn track, but it’s not dumb and that’s a pretty big difference. Her upbringing further sharpens the album. “Akasaka Sad” and “Dynasty” both layer in her personal story and in doing so further evolve the music. The pop she draws from never thought to speak of the immigrant experience. She astutely and cuttingly speaks of tourists in “Tokyo Love Hotel” and the storytelling there is made better for the earlier contrast of “Bad Friend.”

It does occasionally slip too close to the well and so “Paradisin” has nothing interesting. The sax there almost sticks it, but is just too cheesy and her voice is not enough to carry the song through. Similarly, “Chosen Family” is just a traditional pop ballad and can’t hold up to the more interesting music here.

At its best though, this is absolutely incredible pop. It’s whip-smart and yet highly approachable from its sources. Outgrowing old tastes has never been this fun.

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.

%d bloggers like this: