Balance. Restraint. Cliched as they are as adjectives for music, these are however not used prevalently for what is called progressive rock, a genre that has become too attached to an over-the-top display of technical play. These two very qualities – balance and restraint – often elusive to the genre help imbue Rainburn’s new album “Insignify” with a welcome freshness. There are deliciously complex and surprising parts right through the album but they exist as a testament to excellent craft and musical maturity, not as indulgent excess.
The album uses for its theme the changing emotional landscape of the musician; any artist, for that matter. Notions of grandeur as a pied piper deliverer of dreams, despair, insecurity, anxiety, desire, acceptance, reconciliation, deliverance are mileposts here but at the end of it you suspect the artist is motoring through these at high speed in a circle in fifth with no escape. The spoken piece “The Wait” with a sparse but beautiful piano for company sets the tone as the artist gets ready to take centre-stage; “For All The World’s A Stage/ And The Stage Is My World”. At nearly two minutes, it might seem a bit of a drag to some (or many) but it’s well worth…errmm…the wait. My familiarity with the next two tracks, “Merchant Of Dreams” and “Elusive Light”, which I have heard live quite a few times has in no way tired me of them. That opening bass and guitar part on “Merchant Of Dreams” is one of the most striking starts to a song that I’ve heard. And “Elusive Light” has been further brightened here by a searing guitar solo at the end by Toshimoa Jamir. Both songs have exceptional progressive elements but it is a credit to the band members that they’ve not let that run away from them. They choose to keep it musically simple but very tasty with the dark psychedelic rock of “Mirrors”. While the previous two hint at it, this song is where you hear the artist spiralling out into the murk of insecurity.
The need for validation leads very aggressively to “Someone New” in theme and in tone as well as the song flirts with metal. The centre-point of the whole album is the disturbing schizophrenic intensity of “Purpose”. Composed as a fugue, which is rare in contemporary music, where two or more voices play their parts at different pitches, “Purpose” gives vent to the torment of the individual torn apart by corrosive existential doubts as artist, lover, philosopher; pathos best expressed by the final, plaintive call, “Why couldn’t I be special/ Why should I be special/ And what does being special even mean”. It all seems to be heading to tragedy on “Suicide Note”, which to my mind is the stand-out track in an album loaded with great songs. A fragile mind wracked by doubt and a sense of inadequacy leading the body to the edge of a final fall; how often have we seen that.
But you sense a shift, a slow pull-back from that precarious point on “Insignify”, an instrumental piece that quietly recalls what has gone past but with a mellowness that retrospection often renders. And so a search “Within”. Although it has all the trappings of a philosophical mind, there is a suspicion that this really is self-preservation kicking in. A temporary sanctuary for what remains a fragile mind. Musically, the song reflects fully well the new-found serenity of the artist. It’s interesting, even educative, how well Rainburn brings in Indian musical elements without those sounding jarring or overbearing. The musical breadth of this album is further revealed in the closing “School Of Atlantis” with surprising jazz parts, deft progressive rock and an Indian segment in the form of a stunningly beautiful flute piece. Diverse yet tightly knit. The artist, whose emotional journey this is, seems to have found finally his patch. Or has he? That “I can feel the wait” at the end seems to loop back disconcertingly to where this started.
Vats Iyengar’s vocal range makes him one of the finest rock voices today, his guitaring is top-notch as well, the proficiency of Praveen Kumar on the drums and Ravi Nair on the bass marks the pair as a formidable rhythm section and every one of the guest musicians – Manu Shrivastava’s beautiful piano work on “The Wait”, Toshimoa’s searing guitar solo at the end of “Elusive Light”, Yogeendra Hariprasad’s mood-setting keyboard playing on “Mirrors”, Vidya Prakash’s added vocals on “Within” and Sidharth Bharadwaj’s exceptional playing on the flute on “School Of Atlantis” – bring in notable contributions. And it is pleasing to see increasingly good production of Indian independent albums as heard here thanks to a very good mix by Thejus Nair of Eleven Gauge Recordings and mastering by Tony Lindgren of Fascination Street.
But “Insignify” is an exceptional album not just for its musicianship. What takes the album up many notches over the “very good” is in the rare refreshing progressiveness of the music, in how well-composed all the various parts are and in eschewing individual virtuosity for cohesiveness while yet retaining musical brilliance.