New Bermuda

If anyone had questions about deafheaven being able to follow up 2013’s “Sunbather” with something as good, the band’s latest release, “New Bermuda” buries their doubts in the deep density of a black hole…or that place in the Atlantic where things allegedly check-in but never leave. Perhaps the most repeated term used in association with “Sunbather” is ‘polarising’, dividing listeners as those who love it and those that deride it for for its lack of ‘pure’ black metal creds. I can understand why the ‘purists’ have a problem with it but if these folk had their way, we’d still be thinking the world is flat and that off the edge is a precipitous drop into nothingness. Thankfully, on the evidence of “New Bermuda” the band isn’t bothered at all by such criticism. I fell in love with “Sunbather” two years back but I rate this new album even higher. It feels more cogent, nuanced and evolved.

Church bells leading into a song have been done to death. But even a tired tool of the trade takes on a rare freshness as the very short cheer of the Christmas-like chimes a few seconds into the start of the opener, “Brought To The Water” only heightens the all-consuming sense of drowning in dark depths. The quality of the music never takes a dip anywhere on the album. The furious “Luna” suddenly melting surprisingly into a dreamy interlude; gliding post-rock arrangements of “Baby Blue” breaking out into a dense, guitar-drenched space; the manic, raging despair of “Come Back” folding gracefully into one of the most beautiful codas I’ve heard; the quiet, dignified acceptance of the inevitable end in the oddly uplifting album-closer “Gifts For The Earth” as George Clarke goes: Then further downward so that I can rest, cocooned by the heat of the ocean floor. In the dark, my flesh to disintegrate into consumption for the earth. This is heartrendingly beautiful music; its underlying desolation marked by a stunning poignance. I’m not much for lists but if I had to pick my album of the year, “New Bermuda” would be it.

I love, adore, respect deafheaven’s music for the same reason that I do that of bands like Agalloch and The Ocean. They are formed of a rare combination of ambition, imagination and intelligence. These are not ‘flat earth’ purists. They are not stymied by stasis and they will keep pushing frontiers wider and deeper.

Aswekeepsearching - Khwaab

The last few months have been a dream lived by post-rock band Aswekeepsearching. Multiple gigs and a tour playing live polished their sound, brought alive many of their musical ideas, finally culminated in the band’s first full length album released this month backed by its first international outing – a five-stop tour of Russia. It took a lot of hard work, commitment and quite some imagination to do all of this, and that in such a short time. All of this is in ample evidence on the album ‘Khwaab’ (which not surprisingly translates to ‘Dream’).

Even though lyrics grace 6 of the 11 songs in this set, the music is largely instrumental in keeping with what one hears of post-rock mostly. As with their earlier EP, the human voice continues to be employed to add textural heft. Yet, the vocals stand out a bit more here and the overall effect is of a richer quality. I think that’s best heard on “What If_?”. Personally, I find the few lyrics quite depressive – valid for our times perhaps but I’d rather ignore them (that’s just me though). But that’s easily offset by the shimmering beauty of the compositions. Listening to these pieces sometimes makes you feel like they’re a film soundtrack, one filled with a heart-wrenching poignancy. It’s hard for a mostly instrumental album to retain interest right through but ‘Khwaab’ manages to do just that with its pensive moments breaking open every once in a while to reveal metal teeth in short, surprising snarls. Well-crafted and excellently produced. This is an album that is one of the finest releases that I’ve heard this year. Although it’s loaded with great numbers, I would go out on a limb and list “B-303”, “What If_?” and “Catalogues” as my favourites…but only just.

Having used so many words here, I really think they do not quite give a sense of the music. So just listen…and again. As for me, I only hope the band hasn’t yet found all that it’s looking for because I would love this dream to linger longer.

You can buy the album from the links on the band’s store page and listen or buy (International) on Bandcamp (below).

I’m NOT the man with a plan. When I started writing this blog four years back, it was just a vehicle for my love of music and word. Nothing more to it. And it continues to be just that. But what it has done for me is that it has taken me on interesting paths. I had not planned for that. One of the things that it recently led to from a passive ‘promotion’ of music that I like through my writing, is active involvement in the form of an Indie music Tour that my young friend, Uddipan Sarmah and I put together. The 2Stroke Tour picked up some attention and a bit of excitement in this part of the world. Things have been said and written about it. About time for an inside view.

Where Do I Begin?

Some time last year I started talking to a couple of friends about getting a few multi-band gigs off the ground. No corporate sponsors, just a DIY (Do It Yourself) effort. But I had to back off a bit because something came up on the personal front that threw my financial calculations into the dustbin. And so I kept myself to volunteering at festivals – the totally insane New Wave Asia Punk & Indie fest in 2014 and this year’s delightful Ode To The Blues were two that I loved the most. Uddipan and I got talking somewhere down that line and over time we got along very well. Now this is a fella chucked his job early on and started a studio and a terrific post-rock band and organized gigs. Driven. No, not to madness although I can’t guarantee that if he sticks to present company. Ambitious, charged up is what I meant. He sounded me out on his idea of kickstarting a tour series but he was was stymied by a lack of funds. He came up with a plan from his insider’s understanding of the Indie ‘scene’ in India, I punched some holes through it, we worked out the details and after some initial sputters, got this engine running. Why? We are a nation whose music space is dominated by film music. I like a lot of film music and I think this whole Indie versus Bollywood yakkity-yak is silly at best and pernicious and harmful at worst. But more and more people need to discover the treasure trove of music that is not film-based. The Indie music scene here is getting better but it’s far from being great. It’s not easy to get paying gigs, sponsorships are sporadic. But instead of moaning about it, there is an increasing though still very small number of bands and gig organisers who are taking a DIY approach to it. We are just two of them. What we want to do with the 2Stroke Tour is to widen the reach of some of these bands, to break down geographical barriers and move out of a quite local loop to a national circuit. And do it at one go. And repeatedly. There is this to be said for scale and a bit of madness – they get noticed:-) And so. Two of my favourite bands – and not just in this country – Skrat and Uddipan’s own aswekeepsearching hopped on to this little 2Stroke Tour vehicle to ride through 5 cities playing back to back over 5 nights. We spent more time at the airport, in planes and taxis than in the hotel rooms. But it’s a testament to the belief that these boys had in this that no amount of exhaustion could keep their energy down. It’s what got one band that’s been playing for a while to give pointers to the other quite newly formed band on improving stage performance. From a restrained presence in Pune to the monsters on stage that they morphed into in Bangalore, aswekeepsearching came a long way, their live performances really doing justice to their music. I have seen Skrat play a number of shows and as tight as they are, they got even better at the end of these 5 nights. The idea of that tour sparked something in these fine young men, the kind of stuff that kept a man recovering from a torn rotator cuff muscle to continue playing like the maniac that he is on stage without anyone realising the existence of his injury. I was on the verge of calling off the tour a few days before it started when I told him that life’s more important, we’ll do this tour some other time. I will never forget his response – “For 5 days, this tour is life. We’re doing this”. Degeneration may lay siege to the brain and wipe away most of memory but I will NOT forget that.

Money Talks

There’s a belief that my role in this Tour is that of an investor. Sure I am, but so is Uddipan. When people say that, they think only in financial terms. Important, no gainsaying that. But so are the time and effort that go into it. Three of Uddipan’s greatest strengths to my knowledge are his undiluted energy and drive, his refusal to be swayed much by emotion and a humility that underscores his willingness to learn. No, now is not the time to pour forth tales of his fervid debauchery – some other time. All of that positive force, Uddipan invests heavily in what he does. And me, I’ve aroused quite a few people’s interest and not always in a good way. I’ve had monologues thrown at me on the lines of “I’m making an album. It’s going to be awesome. Give me your money. Well, why won’t you?”. Uddipan worries a lot about my being exposed to that kind of stuff. So all you folk who think I’m Mr. Moneybags, the reality is that I have very limited resources. My situation is not dire but I do not have money for nothing. But what I do have, I use well. I take risks that are out of proportion to those, always have. And I make it work. Because I believe in the things I do and the people I work with. There – that’s the trick:-) I’m helped tremendously by the fact that my wife trusts me to do the right thing. Sure, she has a vested interest – a happy and busy me keeps my otherwise grumpy self off her hair. What is also real is that on this venture I’m not just a financial investor. I’m not one of those who put in money and watch other people take care of things. Being involved actively is the only way I know to make sure things happen. We’ve learned, Uddipan and I, over the last few months to understand and trust each other’s strengths and judgement and so we find it easy to divvy up the work. It’s worked well so far. Oh! we’ve also figured out that we need to budget for two tours because by the time money comes in delayed tranches from the venues (there were two delightful exceptions thankfully) for one tour, we’ve already incurred major expenses for the next one. Made things very, very  uncomfortable but we learned from that and worked better deals with the venues on this next one.

The Love Of Uncommon People

You see a lot of logos on our posters and think that these are sponsors who have pumped in money into this tour. No they have not. We can take care of that – at least at this current scale. What they have done is something perhaps more important. Folk like Pepsi MTV Indies, Up Your Arts, Sound Awake and What’s The Scene? and OYO Rooms and Uber have shown immense faith in us in these early days and gone out on a limb to try and make sure that this venture succeeds. Of course, some of them have commercial interests – they have businesses to run – but at this stage they cannot possibly be certain of what good it could do them. When word of the first edition of the Tour went out, there was a mix of disbelief, amusement and excitement. All of the work and that nebulous thing called belief that got this machine running would’ve meant nothing if folk hadn’t known about it and not come for the shows. People pitched in by writing about it in national dailies and online magazines and blogs. We sent out individual notes to our friends to spread the word. And they responded magnificently, to the point where I started worrying about a negative whiplash. At the end of it, it worked – we had jam-packed shows everywhere. All these people made it work.

Brother, Where You Bound?

The second edition of the Tour rolls out this week with Kolkata’s The Ganesh Talkies and Mumbai’s Last Remaining Light. This time to 8 cities. We are of course very, very excited about it.

2Stroke Tour Episode 2

We get pinged by bands about getting on board the Tour. Most of them are very sweet about it and then there are a few jerks. It has helped in our discovery of bands and music and a few of them are on our growing list of acts that we would like to have on the Tour. There, it’s as simple as that. We need to like you. And by that, we don’t mean just the music. Nobody wants to deal with crappy attitude. If you’re not willing to invest in yourself, you really don’t have a leg to stand on demanding someone else does that for you. We are not doing anyone favours here nor are we under any obligation to run this. We are not doing this as a result of some dreamy notion of making the world a better place. Heck, we’re not even doing this for a living. Sure, we go into details and plan to try and make sure that we recover our costs but this is by no means our livelihood. We love doing this and it’s a huge source of fun and gratification for us to see some of our Indian Indie music that we ourselves enjoy get a wider audience. Having said that, as much of a range of music as we may listen to, we are limited. And even with that, the 2Stroke Tour is restricted to 2 bands on each edition and to maybe about 5 editions in an year. It is what it is. The good thing is that we’re seeing more and more gigs and tours happening in this country and we are hoping more venues, bands and organisers will join in.

Is it sustainable for us? We do not know. The only way we will know is to keep at it. As I’m fond of saying, without any originality – You ain’t going nowhere till you step out on that journey. Things could change of course. The driving force for the 2Stroke Tour is a combination of Uddipan’s ambition and my getting bored – I don’t have much time left and I’m not going to waste it on the same old, same old. I will constantly look to throw in something that excites me at least. And so this same combo could completely derail it too. Ambition can push boundaries but it’s no good if all you get is much louder and no better. And me, I might just give it all up and grow carrots instead…for a while. But till then, it keeps us runnin’.

cover

A few days back, one of my habitual whiner acquaintances bemoaned the death – as he put it – of the deep brooding malevolence that characterised metal music. I was too happy with my beer to resort to violence, nor even to argue. I played him Shepherd’s “Stereolithic Riffocalypse”. His stupefied silence was one of the most satisfying rewards of my blessed life. He walked away with one of the two remaining CDs of the album that I had with me then.

An album name like this evokes thoughts of monstrous riffs. Monumental silliness too, yes, but we’ll let that pass because it doesn’t find its way into the music. This three-piece purveyor of sludge metal has produced the kind of slow motion skull-crushing, mind-numbing music that I am partial to in the heavy metal world. To me it’s a refreshing (it’s ok if you think I must be sick) change from the tearing, high-speed metal that seems – I could be wrong there though – more popular in my part of the world. The tone for the album is set with the dark, visceral “Spite Pit”. And when you hear “Turdspeak” you get an even better sense of the ‘numbing’, ‘crushing’ heavy adjectives I indulged in. Only, this song does it better and more exquisitely than any other in the set. But I know others who have fallen for the cathartic groove of “Crook” or the title track. I wouldn’t complain about that. However, wading through such thick sludge can be tiresome as you get to the end of the album but even on “Wretch Salad” which I found tedious for the most part, the trio manages to wrench you from weary somnolence to a state of frenzy with a surprising change of pace about three quarters into the song. You’ll find that similar schizophrenic state on “Bog Slime” too. And if you thought the dense low end is all that the band has on offer, check out the guitar that kicks in at about 6:25 on the closer “Stalebait”. To me this album seems well thought out and crafted admirably. “Stereolithic Riffocalypse” is not to be just sampled. It has to be heard in its entirety.

I had written about the nearly impossibly low drone of Torche a few posts back. Shepherd plumbs even deeper, and that’s saying a lot. While Torche instils a very unusual, contrarian peppiness, Shepherd goes conventional. The end result is the same though – a vigorous shaking out of the demons in you.

Oh! that acquaintance I mentioned? I haven’t heard from him since. I think he smashed himself out on the sound.

I rarely let my firmly ingrained cynicism spill over into this blog but what’s a rule but dead boring without its exceptions. About an year back hope ran amok in this country as new government took the reins of states (a few that went to the electorate around that time) and the nation. There were cynics back then and a stunned yet vitriol spewing opposition. Months later cynicism reigns supreme. One hears the bureaucrats at the Centre have finally been sorted out and that red tapism and corruption have come down. But what would we know? Only what we see. This. Governments have shown alacrity in resorting to banning beef when an alarmingly increasing rate of farmer suicide rages rampant. In the battle of holy cow and sinning humanity, we are clear who wins. A ‘Swachh Bharat’ (Clean India) campaign blares loudly while garbage overruns the streets. And now the politicians want to take over the one Central Institution that provides hope – the country’s Reserve Bank which has largely been responsible for this nation not falling into the economic folly of so many other supposedly developed nations. Some things don’t change. One of those times when I’m wholly with Punk On Toast’s furious “Democracy Is A Lie”, when I feel The Who got “Meet the new boss / Same as the old boss” spot on but not the “Won’t Get Fooled Again” bit.

Nothing new but there’s a reason I’m writing this piece today of all days. A truly great man passed away yesterday. A rare man who was looked up to by almost everyone in India irrespective of divisions of religion, caste, language, wealth, education, political affiliation. Teacher, scientist, musician, perhaps the greatest President of my country, a wonderful person – Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam was all of that but more than all of these he was an inspiration to a populace almost bereft of hope. The greatness of a nation lies in its people. But how great can we be when the masses’ greatest ‘concern’ is if such a man’s death earns them a holiday from work or school? This instance is not the illness in itself but a strong symptom. Is it any wonder we get the governments that we have?

With such a majority we will get fooled again and again and democracy will remain a fuckin’ lie.

 

Parvaaz - Transitions

The most successful lives are ones that deal with change. Trite but true. How they deal with that change is what makes it interesting. Last evening my wife and I (and many others) were part of an event that recorded, quite literally, the path that one of my favourite bands, Parvaaz has traversed over the last few years. In an age when people put up recordings of everything from their cat to their brat, the band has a remarkable lack of decent live videos. I’ve not been able to find anything of note even of their terrific album (‘Baran’) launch gig at CounterCulture. They felt it was time to change that. As they get ready for their third recorded work – after the EP ‘Behosh’ and the first full album ‘Baran’ – they fell in with the idea of a live video recording that Gokul Chakravarthy came up with. Weeks of planning and execution saw them play a gig that was aptly called ‘Transitions’ at Jagriti Theater last evening that was set up to be recorded for a DVD (??? are those things still around? I wouldn’t know, outmoded as I am). Jagriti is not your usual host of music gigs. It’s a theater space and a lovely, intimate one at that. So it took some doing to get it ready for this show. Unlike every other gig, we were expected to be in on time to cut down ‘interference’ with the recording. It’s a testament to the regard Parvaaz is held in that the venue was filled to capacity on time at the fairly early hour of 8 pm on an insanely heavy traffic working day in a city notorious for its very laidback attitude to timeliness.

I had commented on a post over at SBI: A Thinning Crowd that I’m not a fan of sit-down rock shows. The author of that blog, Rick had a different point of view. So Rick if you’re reading, this was one of those and I sat down right through:-) My opinion on that hasn’t changed though. It was a strange feeling to be parked on our butts to such moving music. The audience was a bit uncertain about how to go about reacting. Y’know the whole expected prim-and-propah theater behaviour. But after the first song the lead singer Khalid gently put us at ease. I still don’t think we could’ve got up on the chairs and jumped and grooved. But at least we could clap, call out, scream…loudly.

I’ve seen Parvaaz grow both in their composing and playing of music and in their assuredness on stage. They’ve got tighter as a unit and more comfortable on stage as compared to the seemingly nervous (almost hesitant) presence in the early days. And I’ve never before heard Khalid speak on stage as easily as he did last evening:-) The band ran through songs from ‘Behosh’, ‘Baran’ and 3 new songs which should be part of the new album, tracking through changes in their music. I’d written previously a bit about how the music on ‘Baran’ broke away from that on ‘Behosh’ and if these 3 new songs are anything to go by, the new album is headed for something a little different again. The changes are noticeable yet not dramatic and manage to carry the Parvaaz stamp. A band in transition in more ways than one AND dealing with it with a quiet, dignified confidence.

Parvaaz is not a band that is short of ambition but I’ve always felt and commented openly on their low appetite for risk. They need to break out of their Bangalore comfort zone. For a band as accomplished as these boys are and with the kind of music they make, by now they should’ve been spreading like wildfire over the country. They haven’t. They ought to. And I’m hoping that’s the next big change.

I have held back on writing this piece thus far only to allow emotion to settle down. For when something that you’ve grown to love, cherish, be attached to disappears, what do you do but mourn. For many of us – and not just in Bangalore – CounterCulture was a very special place. We made new friends, hung out with old ones, the musically gifted among us made great music (ok, maybe not always) that the rest of us grooved to and always, always, we had great fun. This was a place for discovery, a launch pad for new bands, a familiar home for established artists. Read the rest of this entry »