Category Archives: DESI ROCK

The Final Beginning – SONIC FLARE – 2012


When I listen to some of my favourite musicians’ discographies in chronological order, the one thing that’s most apparent while album hopping is a consistent trend towards maturity. It holds true even during some catastrophic missteps and bad decisions (St. Anger, anyone?). It’s the reason why most young musicians (myself included) are so insufferable. Listening to them is listening to them practice and compete­ rather than making music. Who wants to listen to someone learning how to speak? Rarely do we get a final, finished, teenage-rebellion-and-acne free act releasing its debut album.

Excellent cover. Except the dick in the distance.

Sonic Flare is promising precisely for this reason. One listen and you intuitively know that the people playing here are older, and more experienced – and critically- more secure. I could immediately tell and sure enough, the band bio backed it up. It’s clear that most of the band members are individual, fully realized (if derivative) musical personalities, well versed in the nuances of structure and arrangement. So how does their debut album stack up?

Most young musicians are insufferable.

The sound can best be described a gentle variant of funk rock with a classic rock background. Makes sense? It’s not the easiest thing to pull off, but the instrumentalists have the confidence and skill to pull it off, especially the bass player. The songs come alive with his playful, funky approach and wrinkle free pocket with the drummer. “Beautiful World” is a genuinely danceable number with its thumpy chorus and jangly intro. The guitar playing is song centric, but not memorable. The solos could be more assertive and more than merely pleasant fillers. “Stay” is a good example; it’s far from the highlight of the song, but more on those lines would be welcome.

"Yes, Yes....I'll stay for the picture, but I really want to go <eyes turn> THERE."

The problems with this album are few, but they require close attention. Firstly, the singer is far from spot on. Too often the songs don’t reach their full potential because the vocals just don’t work for me. Sometimes, like on “I, Me, Myself”, they hurt the song. I get the whole raw and untrained charisma thing, and I could hear elements of that in his singing. But I think the vocals need more refining for a band that sounds this airy; they also need to be mixed lower to give more breathing space to the solid rhythm section. He doesn’t fit. The second problem is that the music isn’t original at all. It’s very well executed, well produced and will probably we well received too, but progress this ain’t. More originality, that comes from picking up diverse influences would be awesome. This is – I think – one of the downsides of being from a band with older members. Their main influences are still somewhere in the 70′s and 80′s, making the overall sound a permutation of things I have already heard.

In the scheme of Indian rock, I suppose this is a good start. As a project started by working professionals in their off time, it’s really quite good. Weekend performances? Check. Being well-known local band? Check. But if Sonic Flare wants pan-Indian and perhaps international attention, some more fire in the belly would be much appreciated. This sounds somewhat right.

-El Bajista


Engraved Invitation-LUCID RECESS-2010


My first clue was the fact that you had to “LIKE” the band on their Facebook page before you could download the songs. No integrity. Minus a million points. The album cover reminds me of Seether’s Karma and Effect for some reason. Minus ten points. Then I saw the self-description of the kind of music they play. “Metal/Alternative”. Alarm Bells. I also noticed that this album was recommended by those poseurs, Rolling Stone and RSJ Online.

Finally I came to the music. Oh my gawd, the music. First thing I noticed was that its not metal. Not an iota. It is not metal in this or any other universe. Power chord riffing, the occasional chugga-chugga does not metal make. Minus 100 points for misrepresentation. Then I heard the vocals. It sounds as if he is singing karaoke with the song playing on Youtube in the background. The guy tries the power metal range in the first song, realizes that he can’t do it and stops. Bad, bad. Minus another 100. Somewhere in the album he tries to do the metal shriek at the end of a line, doesnt make it. The whole album is bunch of generic mid-90′s alternative rock chords (think Candlebox, Love Battery, Bush, Stone Temple Pilots..no wait, STP had some good songs.) The guitar playing is competent and everything, but that doesn’t mean that this stands a chance of sounding right. Not a chance in hell. Minus another 1000 points. Oh, and they had the friggin audacity to call themselves METAL of all things? This standard, mundane post-grunge affair? Minus another 100. I could point out a million other things that I despise about this record, but wth, my point has been made.

But at least they had the good sense to give this away for free. Plus 10. Anybody keeping score?

-Baba T   

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OKBye! – FIRE EXIT – 2011


I’m writing this review in real time. There is a reason why. I have no idea what the hell Fire Exit is. I’ve never heard their music. I’ve never heard of them. I don’t approach them with a preconceived notion of what their music might be. Or what they look like. Or sound like. “Fire Exit-OKBye!” is an unopened zip file that’s there on my desktop, offering promise or peril. A classic Schrodinger’s cat, this.

So, I see the artwork. Good news here. It’s five Indian kids who look like Indian kids clearly under no illusion that they are not white-working class redneck truckers. And what’s this? A cover that displays a Tata truck?

More and more, Indian bands have the courage to be Indian. Good.

Good.

So let’s start. The first song in any album, especially debut albums, has to be the most radio friendly. Think ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ and ‘Enter Sandman’ and even – sadly – ‘Ice Ice Baby’. So, right on cue, we have ‘Waiting For’, with a bass-guitar doodle reminding me of ‘By the way’. Singer Subhadra has a smooth, if not terribly distinctive voice. The shakers and tupperware percussion works very well. The song builds slowly, propelled by the sound of a good hard pick on a bass (or at least it sounds like that).  I like this first song. I LIKE IT!! It’s distinctive, with a smooth-jazz attention to arrangement.  Unfortunately, things slide a little bit from here on.

‘Poison Ivy’ is let down by the guitar riffing. I can’t exactly put my finger on it, but it’s not delivered with conviction and feel. Further, I found the tabla and guitar jugalbandi to be a bit forced. That said, the idea itself is a good one, and deserves a second go. Same is the problem with ‘The Spark’. It is a good song let down by a slight lack of conviction in the riffing.

But don’t worry guys. One of the best albums of last decade By the Way, went by without nary a heavy riff to be heard. In fact, I think that’s a good starting point for this music. This is a mellow rock record, and I like it for its lack of pretention. It’s By the Way’s melodic bits + Porcupine Tree guitars + sincere vocals. Vox Subhadra does not have a voice that’s out of this world, but I realize that she ­really­ makes you want to listen to the lyrics. It’s all well thought out, if not particularly original lyrics, delivered with a soothing croon and yes, sincerity. A bit like Alanis Morissette stripped of the penis envy, then. She is the band’s big strength.

By the time ‘Heroes’ came along though, I realized that there is another problem. The tabla here is a bit like having an oboe in a metal band. He comes in sometimes, but then just sort of peters out. My suggestion, guys: either incorporate the tabla better in ALL the rhythms, or don’t bother. The song otherwise is quite nice, led by a nice little finger-picked guitar riff.

Now, usually the reason why tabla won’t fit into such a band is simply because the rest of the instruments are completely western and played in a western sort of way. Fusion almost seems like a dirty word. ‘MML’ seeks to redress this balance, led as it is with a bass riff attempting an Indian raga facsimile. I was hopeful this would be the track where the tabla player would redress the chronic underuse and under incorporation of his instrument. He manages it only partially, with a short solo section and and an intro, while the band slips comfortably back into the comforting arms of AOR accessibility. My point stands.

But I’ll be an optimist, though. This is a good start. It is not a meteor shooting through the night sky, but it is a gentle cloud with a special tint. I do think that the template for this band is set. They have an AOR sound with Porcupine Tree/John Mayer like production, and emphasis on ­­songs and melodies and thought out lyrics. All good. But despite the smooth vocal-jazz like production, a few rough edges remain. The tabla and the lack of great riffs is a jarring point. The Chili Peppers counteract this by having Flea lay down some bitchin’ bass riffs. A bit more rock would be welcome. More crunch on the bass would also add some balls too, compared to the current wandering hippo sound. Finally, more memorable melodies would set these guys well on their way. So in the final totting up, this sounds quite right.

- El Bajista

More DESI ROCK reviews HERE.

 

 


The Happy Goat – TOUGH ON TOBACCO – 2009


Indian Rock/Independent music has grown a lot since, let’s say 2002. But not enough to truly appeal in a big way yet. As a result, it is in danger of becoming insular and incestuous, a bit like what most people conceive of the art world- old farts without much relevance to the outside world.

But then, that is not to say that this shrink-wrapped intermingling doesn’t yield good results. Yes, it produces utter crap on occasion (try Shaair and Func’s latest) – unnecessarily experimentative and counter-intuitive excercises in look-how-much-I-can-play/produce/layer. But there is also stuff like Tough on Tobacco, genuinely nice listenable music aimed at listeners. It’s composed of a couple of members of the legendary Zero, and then some. It’s a bitta rock, a bitta reggae and a bitta something else in a nice little package with humorous lyrics that aren’t contrived. I like this. Sample “Concert Piano”, about the singer’s inability and frustration to play the piano. This could have been a dangerously daft and silly attempt at humorous rock- a joke that no one laughs at, with only the incestuous lot liking it. Remember Navjot Singh Sidhu laughing his arse off in The Great Indian Laughter Challenge? It could’ve been something like that. But this works.Err.....sexy.

It’s a bitta rock, a bitta reggae, a bitta something else in a nice little package with humorous lyrics that aren’t contrived.

And the best part is that its backed up by some really catchy rhythms and hooks, like the opening bass and keyboard hook on “Consuella” or the guitar and bass doodles on “Already told you”, or the really very catchy guitar on “Don’t leave me behind”. These are real songs by mature musicians, having fun. Good shit. 

As far ‘good songs’ are concerned, I’m finding it hard to point out a bad song here. They’re all kind of light hearted and fun. But, if you were to poke me with a stick, I’d say “Wait till the Night’s Out”, “Tough on Tobacco”, “Forest of Doom”, and “Concert Piano” are my favourites. Check ‘em out.

Stumbling blocks are sometimes flawed mixing/production, especially with regard to vocal harmonies, which jangle and jar. The bass should’ve been heavier in the mix. This is- after all- reggae influenced. But all said and done, this is an encouraging sign that there is some good music floating about. It’s hardly Bob Marley, but Tough on Tobacco generally sounds right.

- El Bajista

More DESI ROCK reviews HERE.

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