Tag Archives: indie rock

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!

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

10 Jun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monthly Playlist: May 2019

1 Jun

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

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

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

4. “Doin’ Time” by Lana del Rey

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

3. “Record Collection” by Kaiser Chiefs

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

2. “Vacancy” by Havelock

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

1. “Inglorious” by slowthai, feat. Skepta

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

Karen O / Danger Mouse – Lux Prima

16 May

Neither Karen O nor Danger Mouse really need to another laurel to their wreaths. They are well-known, highly successful and something of an establishment in their fields already. Neither one really needs a boost, which works out, as Lux Prima isn’t the kind of album that can define an artist. It is, however, a skillful pop-rock diversion and a fun 40 minute listen.

“Turn The Light” is just good, infectious pop. Karen O’s voice is stellar throughout. Songs like “Drown” work so well because her voice is impeccably controlled and very personal and that muddies up the slow moving but so intriguing production underneath. The closer “Nox Lumina” has a sound reminiscent of a lullaby, but taken wonderfully out of context and its mirror “Lux Prima” is a clean synth line.

The album as a whole is a little ephemeral though. It’s great to listen to, but forgettable when it’s done. The structure is a little too traditional and the album a little too lacking in innovation. Despite the tremendous skill of the two musicians and the cleanness of their sound, the whole comes off slightly shallow.

The talent is undeniably there though and comes through on every song. If you like any of the earlier work of Karen O (Yeah Yeah Yeahs) or Danger Mouse (Broken Bells, Gnarls Barkley, The Grey Album, Danger Doom, lots of other things), you’ll find plenty to like here too.

Monthly Playlist: Apr. 2019

2 May

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

5. “38’s” by The Vanities

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

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

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

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

3. “This Life” by Vampire Weekend

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

Father of the Bride is out on May 3.

2. “Pretty Old Man” by No Buses

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

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

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

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

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

Iyer’s Filter Coffee – coldturkey

9 Apr
Artwork by Saloni Sinha and Vishal Gulve

Disclaimer: the writer has a long personal history with three out of four of the band members of Iyer’s Filter Coffee.

The early/mid-2000s were a great time to be an indie rock fan. There was a perfect balance between good bands, access (thank you LimeWire and Myspace), and discoverability. The fact that so many of the stalwarts of that early scene have gone on to become mainstream monoliths in their own right shows how much that era of music still resonate today.

Bangalore-based Iyer’s Filter Coffee and their debut EP, coldturkey are a throwback to that early indie rock sound. The four-piece band stick to the basics of two guitars, a bass and drums (with the odd keys) to deliver up a solid first release.

First up is “Elanor.” What starts off with an Audioslave-esque lead by guitarist Pushkara Ravindra ends up in a freewheeling melodic shred-fest, with front-man Rushil Mishra’s vocals and rhythm guitar harmonising to tie together a sound that stops short on the right side of self-indulgent.

Up next is “Beach,” with its easy toe-tapping lazy groove that gets me smiling every time (thanks to namesake Sachin Iyer). The real pleasure lies in the final third of the song (a common thread throughout the album), which has this delightful break down/sine-wave thing going on for it that’s just sonically gorgeous.

Soma” is IFC’s signature song, a wailing mix of wah-wah filled fuzz and three-chord guitar grunge with a driving bass that’s bound to get the crowd pumping, even if I’m not completely sold on what the song tries to do. There’s something about the mix that I can’t quite place that undercuts some of the guitar riffs, but I doubt that’ll matter when you’re three beers down, so…

Soma, from coldturkey

The penultimate song, “Moonlight” opens with a most Indian-indie-sounding riff, before switching things up and veering towards an AM-circa-Suck-it-and-See sound. It’s a surprisingly mature and well-crafted piece, and displays a range and depth to the band that bodes well for their future releases.

Why Don’t You Come Over” rounds out the nostalgia trip with a dream-pop/shoe-gazy reverb-laden late-night call to lovers past. It’s mellow, it’s airy, it’s a delight to listen to.

coldturkey doesn’t reinvent a genre, nor does it break from long-standing musical traditions, but it ultimately doesn’t have to. It’s a solid debut by a good band that’s slowly etching their mark on the Bangalore music scene, filling a niche and gaining an organic following in the process. They’ve also got a brilliant album cover, which is always a bonus.

coldturkey is available on Apple Music, Soundcloud, and Spotify. Go check them out!

Conor Oberst / Phoebe Bridgers – Better Oblivion Community Center

5 Mar

There’s a style of book that I always and incorrectly call modern writing. It’s wry, understated, cynical, honest and very, very clever. It’s also just a little bit precious. It’s Early Work by Andrew Martin but it’s not quite Rabbit, Run by John Updike. It’s also this album.

This shouldn’t be surprising. Both Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Oberst have made their names in this space of indie folk-rock and they’re both very good at it. This album is simply excellent. It’s good, solid guitar work, clean singing and incisive lyrics.

The stand-out is the wonderful “Service Road.” It’s lo-fi and minimal and beautiful. It’s a slow walk in Autumn when you’re sad. Conor Oberst’s voice is excellent here and it delivers the standout stanza of “Asking strangers to forgive him/ But he never told them what it is/ He did to them that made him feel so bad” with so much depth.

That’s far from the only highlight of the album. “Big Black Heart” is excellent with Phoebe Bridgers putting some great snarl into it and with very strong distortion at the end to cap the fuzziness of the song. “My City” is nice and low stakes and relaxing and has a fun jangle behind the verses. “Dylan Thomas” is very clever lyrically and also musically.

Better Oblivion Community Center is a gorgeous album. The singers’ voices mesh well with each other and they think in similar ways. They also have the confidence and sense to know when to let their guitar work stand alone and when to leave space for extended chords and for heavy feedback. It’s a clever, accomplished album and one that’s well worth your time.

@murthynikhil

Monthly Playlist: Feb. 2019

1 Mar

Last month, we started a new feature here at Top Five Records: a run-down of the top five songs from every month. We heard from quite a few of you that you loved it – so without further ado, here’s our list for this month!

5. “Body Chemistry” – The Drums

Don’t let the unrelenting bassline on “Body Chemistry” fool you into thinking it’s a harmless, upbeat bop. On this new track from the NYC-based indie-pop band The Drums, lead singer Jonathan Pierce provides a peak-millennial take on anxiety, romance, and the crippling self-awareness in between. “I know some good luck, and a good fuck, a nice glass of wine and some quality time is gonna make you mine,” he acknowledges, “but it’s not what I’m trying to find.” The song itself reminds us of some of the best tracks on Spoon’s last album, so that’s always a good thing as well. The Drums are set to release their fourth album in June.

4. “In the Capital” – Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever

Melbourne-based pop-rock quintet Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever (there’s a mouthful!) had a very well-received debut album (Hope Downs) last year. Their sound is essentially a cross between the woe-is-me melancholy of Deerhunter and the sparkling pop of Real Estate – but it’s not as odd a combination as you would think. “In the Capital”, a new track that was released earlier this week, apparently came about as lead singer Fran Keaney was swimming. “I can’t neatly describe it, but something like connection despite distance. I was thinking about transience and water and death and big cities and fishing towns and moon river,” he says. Have a listen for yourself – we think he’s got it down spot-on, actually.   

3. “Fast Times” – Albert Hammond Jr.

Albert Hammond Jr.’s third full-length album, Francis Trouble, won us over last year with its boisterous yet clean-cut vibe. With “Fast Times”, Hammond is back with a track that is equal parts nostalgic and melancholic. “I was over there, completely unaware / It was me, that you saw / How little did I know / All the things would go,” Hammond sings, wistfully reminiscing about carefree days long gone. The music is of course immediately evocative of the early 2000s-heyday of crisp, fast-paced rock, for which Hammond’s past (and present!) band, the Strokes, were a primary driver. After “Fast Times”, we’re certainly keeping an eye out for more music from Hammond.

2. “GummyBear” – Mini Mansions

Mini Mansions are an LA-based three-piece band comprising The Last Shadow Puppets’ bassist Zach Dawes, QOTSA bassist-turned-singer Michael Shuman and Tyler Parkford. If that line-up sounds like the band would make fun, bass-driven tracks that could fit well within Humbug-era Arctic Monkeys, you are exactly right. In fact, Mini Mansions are just coming off of a supporting tour on that band’s North America leg, and something great seems to have rubbed off of on them. “GummyBear” is an instantly accessible dance-rock track about a love-hate relationship (“Boy, I thought you was sweet, girl, but you’re just sugar-free”). Mini Mansions plans to release their third full-length album, Guy Walks into a Bar… in July – look for them!

1. “NASA” – Ariana Grande

This month, Ariana Grande released thank u, next, her much-awaited follow-up to 2018’s blockbuster hit, Sweetener. New converts to Arianaworld, such as yours truly, were skeptical that a brand-new album mere months after the monstrously successful Sweetener could live up to the hype that Ariana has created for herself. However, those thoughts can be laid to rest and buried under six feet of earth, because Ariana is almost definitely the new queen of pop music.

The title track from the new album, of course, has been in constant rotation on radio stations and Spotify playlists since late last year, but there are actually a shockingly high number of other great songs on there, too. The best of these, in our opinion, is “NASA”, a space-themed ode to modern romance. “I’d rather be alone tonight / You can say ‘I love you’ through the phone tonight,” she says, an on-the-head flip of decades of popstars who’ve told us that they need to be around their men 24/7. Of course, being an Ariana track, there is also a maddeningly catchy chorus – this one involving a playful spell-out of the titular government agency. We’d be surprised if this song alone doesn’t play a part in raising the brand value of NASA.

Read our full review of thank u, next here.

The Voidz – Virtue

20 Dec

Over the years, there have been numerous side projects of The Strokes’ members. Lead singer Julian Casablancas had a short-lived solo act, while lead guitarist Albert Hammond Jr has had a string of well-received albums (including one that we loved this year). However, the most intriguing project has consistently been the New York group known as The Voidz.

Consisting of six musicians (and led by Casablancas), The Voidz are perhaps an alternate-reality version of The Strokes: one where the immense mainstream success of the latter’s debut Is This It did not stop them from fully exploring their musical capabilities. Quirky, eclectic, and mind-numbingly creative, Virtue is perhaps Casablancas’ most inspired music since the matchless Is This It.

What stands out the most on Virtue is the vast number of musical styles that it manages to touch. The band has mentioned in interviews that their creative push comes from the members’ wide-ranging tastes – and it’s easy to see that here.

QYURRUS” can perhaps be described as Arabic Autotune, with Casablancas’ literally unintelligible vocals often sounding like a foreign language (and / or a cult leader). Strangely, though, the song’s freakishly morphed melody gets stuck in your head; sort of like musical Stockholm Syndrome. On the immediate next song, The Voidz swerve with “Pyramid of Bones”, featuring hard rock verses that devolve frequently into a full-on death metal chorus.

Pink Ocean” is something else altogether: a slinky, vaguely pessimistic number that relies on Casablancas’ famous falsetto (see: “Instant Crush”). Toward the end of the album, “We’re Where We Are” frazzles the soul with its barked-out political commentary (“New holocaust happening / What, are you blind? / You’re in Germany now, 1939”) and hell-raising anger.

Not to say that all of Virtue is crazy stuff, either: Casablancas thankfully dips into Strokes-y brilliance once in a while. Album opener “Leave It in My Dreams” is an instantly nostalgic tune with clean guitars, sharp drums and some of Casablancas’ most emotive vocals. “ALieNNatioN” is more sinuous and mysterious, but has many of the same broadly pleasant elements. There may be a lot of strange sounds on “All Wordz Are Made Up” (cowbell, anyone?), but the classic dance-pop beats push the marker from weird to fun. “Wink” and its cousin “Lazy Boy” could make frequent rotations on your favorite pop station, with lush rhythm guitars, laconic vocals and beautiful melodies.

There are fifteen songs on Virtue, and frankly, each of them deserve their own page-length homage. This is an album that rewards you with something new on every single listen. Highly recommended, no matter what your tastes are.

Best songs: “Leave It in My Dreams”, “QYURRYUS”, “All Wordz Are Made Up”

P.S. The album has generated many great music videos, but perhaps the best is the one for “All Wordz Are Made Up”. If it’s this interesting while sober, we can only imagine…

Arctic Monkeys – Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino

13 Dec

In many ways, the Arctic Monkeys’ sixth studio album Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino is the antithesis of their break-out debut (Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not).

For starters, Tranquility is much slower-paced, relying heavily on dreamy piano bits and understated bass-lines, while the debut practically rewrote the book on fast-paced guitar riffs. Lyrically, Tranquility has lead singer Alex Turner making circuitous, often self-important statements, differing vastly from the sharp observations on “From the Ritz to the Rubble” or on “A Certain Romance” – and ironically becoming the same person he lambasted on “Fake Tales of San Francisco”.

And that isn’t the biggest irony. The Monkeys’ debut propelled to instant fame partly because it was precisely at the right point in music history to become one of the Internet’s first “viral” hits – but Alex Turner, in an unfortunate turn toward the geriatric, devotes many lines on Tranquility to the supposed evils of a connected world.

It isn’t all bad news, though. “Four Out of Five”, with its bass-laden brilliance, details Turner’s fascinating album concept. Apparently, the very real Tranquility Base now houses a hotel and casino on the moon, complete with a house band (Arctic Monkeys as the Martini Police) and a taqueria on the roof. There’s also a hint of a futuristic dystopia (“Since the exodus, [the moon’s] all getting gentrified”), which the music video builds upon with intrigue.

Batphone” is another stand-out track, with a subtly sexy bass and an old-school thriller vibe that perhaps makes the Monkeys great contenders to soundtrack the next Bond movie. The title song also shines through O’Malley’s bass-line, and a dollop of magical realism (“Jesus in the day spa / filling out the information form”). By the time you get to the chorus, you almost feel like you are, indeed, at the Monkeys’ hotel and casino complex.

However, the album betrays a steep decline in Turner’s lyrics. “Technological advances / Really bloody get me in the mood”, he complains on the title song, and seconds later beseeches his lady love, “Pull me in close on a crisp eve, baby / Kiss me underneath the moon’s side boob”. Yuck, on both counts. On “She Looks Like Fun”, he descends into simply yelling out non-sequiturs (“Good morning” / “Cheeseburger” / “Snowboarding”) – apparently, they are all references to his now-ex-girlfriend Taylor Bagley’s Instagram feed, but that knowledge cannot excuse these lyrics (and somehow makes them worse). On “Batphone”, he talks about using “the search engine” and the time he “got sucked into a hand-held device”. Perhaps the technological ignorance is meant to be quaint?

Apart from the lyrics, the album’s other big travesty is the criminal under-use of Matt Helders’ drums. Other than Turner’s (erstwhile) quick wit, Helders’ drumming was perhaps the key reason to be a Monkeys fan. On Tranquility, he is relegated to simple beats that a drum machine could have probably provided, while Turner takes front stage with an often-rambling persona. On the music front, the silver lining is that Nick O’Malley really outdid himself on the bass, practically carrying otherwise-unmemorable songs.

With Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, the once-cool Arctic Monkeys have taken a worryingly avuncular turn. Hopefully, Alex and co. will be able to take the best parts of this album for a livelier seventh output. This one, though, is a dud.

Best songs: “Four Out of Five”, “Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino”, “Batphone”

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