Music, Today I Learned

Sakhi Maro/Tu Mera Dil

I listen to a lot of music. This is known.

A byproduct of that is that for long periods of time, certain artistes take on more, or very little, prominence in my playlists, a function of recent release schedules, my soundscape mood (there are times when nu-retro reigns supreme on my headphones, for example, or ambient anime piano), and pure serendipity.

The third factor, that of serendipity is what leads to goosebumps, when a song that I haven’t heard in a long while suddenly emerges front and center. Today was one such day, when a tune from Susheela Raman’s Love Trap, an album that defined 2004-05 for me, materialized in my head, and of course, I had to play the album from beginning to end. I was going about my morning with a smile and a skip, as song after song came on, releasing dopamine hits and unlocking half-buried aural memories. Suddenly, it was ‘Sakhi Maro’ on the speakers. If you know the song, you know it melts you like butter on a warm slice of bread. But today, out of all the times I have heard ‘Sakhi Maro’, I realized that the opening bars of the song reminded me of something else. Another song.

But what did it remind me of? I paused the song for a bit and thought about what exactly brought about that stray memory? It was definitely not Susheela’s voice or the tune itself. When I played it again from the beginning, it hit me. The gentle, melodic strumming that is the bedrock of the track reminded me of a Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan track from one of his collaborations with Michael Brook. There being two of those albums – Musst Musst and Night Song. A bit of quiet contemplation brought me to the exact track. It was the opening track to Night Song, called ‘My Heart, My Life’, with the exact same strumming that was part-guitar, part-harp.

Now I had always thought most sounds on the Brook albums were the Infinite Guitar, the musician’s own modification of the electric guitar. As it turned out, the sound on both the songs was a West African instrument called the Kora. It has 21 strings and has features of a lute and a harp. And once you hear a kora and realize how versatile it is, it’s hard to ever miss it. Tom Diakite plays the instrument on ‘Sakhi Maro’, Kaouding Cissoko from Senegal plays it on ‘My Heart, My Life’. On both the tracks, these guys steal the bulk of the thunder.

Here’s a minute long video that shows how the same instrument produces different kinds of sounds, demoed by musician Toumane Diabate.

And here’s an hour-long concert that’s a cello-kora duet featuring Ballake Sissoko and cellist Vincent Segal.

On an aside, the MTV Unplugged version of ‘Sakhi Maro’ has Sam Mills playing the guitar on the track, which added to my confusion. The track also features renowned percussionist and singer Kutle Khan on vocals and the khartal, making it arguably better than Susheela’s original interpretation.

I cannot but be awed by the things that I still do not know, and by the secrets these familiar friends from decades ago still manage to unravel.

(Also, this is the second time in a year that I have gone back to Susheela Raman on the blog. That must count for something!)

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Albums, Music

Susheela Raman – Ghost Gamelan

This is a good time to mention that Susheela Raman has a new album that came out last year, called Ghost Gamelan.

In case you didn’t know, Gamelan is a form of traditional music from Indonesia, primarily the islands of Bali and Java. The music is percussive, and its origins lie in Javanese mythology, from the story of a king who summoned the gods by playing on three gongs. So while gamelan incorporates a variety of musical instruments, the majority of the world identifies it via the distinctive sound of the metallic and bamboo gongs, xylophones, and cymbals that are used in the ensemble.

The first time I heard the sound of gamelan was, even though I did not know it then, the soundtrack of Akira. The layered, propulsive beats that underscored the violent motorcycle chase sequence in the opening moments of the film was all bamboo and metal gongs. The sound captures the frantic energy onscreen with perfection, and still manages to pump me up every time the beats kick in. For a movie that released in 1988, the music does not sound the least bit dated. (Contrast this to another sci-fi anime epic that released in the same time period -– I adore Joe Hisaishi, but the Nausicaa OST screams its time-period from the first synth-note)

Raman’s album, in contrast to Akira, fluctuates between percussion-heavy pieces (‘Tanpa Nama’) and slow, meditative pieces (‘Beautiful Moon’, ‘Spoons’) that accentuate the moodiness the musical form is capable of. Sometimes, her lyrics and the main melody dance around the traditional music elegantly, yin and yang (‘Ghost Child’); in others, voice and gong echo in unison. ‘Annabel’ is probably the only track that is old-school Susheela, and is a wonder unto itself. Oh, and the last song ‘Rose’ features lyrics by William Blake. While I don’t like quoting promotional material from album releases, the official text describes the music far better than I can:


Javanese music evokes  the invisible; ancestral presences, old religions, volcanic rumblings, and court intrigues. A sensuality of appearances, decorum, ritual and procession runs to trance and possession. Meanwhile, Raman’s songs here are meditations on change, transformation and mortality. Lyrics reflect on uncertainties cast by memory, desire and the ephemeral.  In this album, tonality and rhythm are questioned and de-centred, just as much as they are asserted. Some records achieve a fixed quality but this record is very ‘alive’, or volatile, both in the performances but also in the way it shifts as you hear it. The vitality of the interactions, of the musical cultures misbehaving with each other, result in a sound more ‘unearthly’ than ‘world’.

https://bit.ly/2PpKqxa

A major part of the album depends on the skills of Raman’s collaborator, Javanese musician Godrang Gunarto and his ensemble. You can see them live here (apparently, they have been touring together since 2017) , wait for 3:42.

One of my favorite experiences with gamelan was a Hammer museum exhibit called The Gamelatron, from two years ago. This was an open-air installation featuring a five-piece kinetic sculpture that used robotics, metal gongs, and timers to play gamelan-inspired music. Viewers were encouraged to lounge around in seating areas and soak in the harmonies that played throughout the day. It was a blissful hour, and I remember coming out of the exhibit feeling rejuvenated.

I loved revisiting the music of Susheela Raman. It’s been 13-odd years since I heard Love Trap for the first time (and forged a life-long friendship in part because of a mutual love for her album). I hadn’t listened to her in years; a Whatsapp message earlier this year brought her again into my periphery, and this apparently is what I missed since 2011:

  • a 2011 album called Vel, which I never listened to
  • a cover of a Naushad song called ‘Mohabbat Ki Jhoothi Kahaani’ for a 2013 movie called Kajarya (which strays into familiar territory as ‘Yeh Mera Deewanapan Hai’ from Love Trap)
  • a strange 2014 album called Queen Between, which features Raman collaborating with neither available on Spotify in the US, nor via any online music stores. Amazon has a (used) CD for sale, so it looks like this was never released in the US. So here we are, in 2019, unable to listen to an album with a few keystrokes and minimal latency. What is this world coming to?

At this point, our intrepid music explorer remembers this little-known site called Youtube, and he blushes at his tirade against digital tyranny. “I recant”, he exclaims, as his senses are filled with chocolate and chiffon, marshmallow and clouds. Behold, unbelievers, the joys of ‘Sharabi’, by Susheela Raman and Rizwan Muazzam.

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Mixtapes, Music

The Return of the Monthly Playlist: August 2015

Yeah, I seem to have been remiss in updating the monthly playlists, so here’s a double-dose of music for the last two months. I did create the playlists, but somehow did not get around to creating a post.

Commentary below:

Chvrches is one of those bands that I like the sound of, but kind of feel that their first album got lost in the wave of similar-sounding synthpop albums that came out around the same time, with female vocalists. Or maybe it’s because there are way too many such bands in my ambit. This is the first single from their new album, due to release end of September, and to say I am obsessed by the song and the video is understating it. The sound and themes are linked to Purity Ring’s ‘Another Eternity’, an album that has captured my heart since it released early this year. It is the three-note sawtooth riff that got my attention, but the pulsating chorus is what really drew me in. And holy shit, Lauren Mayberry (singer, song-writer, drummer girl and journalist? Talk about over-achieving!) is so SHINY in that video, in the Whedonian sense of the term.

I stumbled on ‘Hanging On’, and it took me a few anguished days of confusion to figure out why it sounded so maddeningly familiar – Ellie Goulding had covered it. The original version runs circles around the cover, Pat Grossi’s voice and arrangements are just heartbreakingly beautiful. It always struck me as a water song, for some reason, and it’s gratifying to see the video.

I have no idea how Hot Chip manages to make every single one of their albums sound so fresh and intriguing. This track is from their newest album Why Make Sense?, and it’s dancey as fuck.

I heard Trifonic’s Emergence around the same time as BT’s This Binary Universe, mostly because the latter got me searching for albums with a similar sound. I was listening to BT’s pseudo-follow-up to TBU, called If the Stars Are Eternal So Are You and I, and obviously revisited Emergence. Much like the revisiting old haunts, this took me down a different head-space. ‘Good Enough’ is the last song in the album, and the acoustic guitar strum is what gets me every time. (1:52, wait for it)

Kyla LaGrange is an English singer with South African/Zimbabwean roots and the kind of voice that feels like a delicious scoop of ice-cream on a warm summer day. The steel drum loop gives it a bouncy calypso vibe. Love it.

Pretty fucking genius to use GTAV (that’s the iconic game from Rockstar Studios, for those who came in late) game-play and cut-scenes to make the video for this song. Reminds me of Com Truise. I would try and describe their sound but the official description works just fine – “a neon soaked, late night, sonic getaway drive, dripping with analog synthesizers, cinematic vocals and cyberpunk values, all exploding from the front cover of a dusty plastic VHS case which has lain forgotten since 1984”. Like a Nicholas Wending Refn wet dream.

Israeli band Garden City Movement’s ‘Move On’ is the kind of track you want to get high and make out to. ‘Nuff said. Oh, and kinda NSFW video. So’s M83’s ‘Wait’, that comes along a few tracks later and Alpine’s ‘Gasoline’.

Jazz and electronic music come together in BadBadNotGood’s works, and ‘Can’t Leave The Night’ definitely goes places. I love how the drum and bassline takes over around 1:00, after the dreampop beginning. Breakestra’s ‘Come On Over’ is more funk than jazz, and I love the ever-loving shit out of it.

Trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf pays haunting tribute to the place of his birth in a trippy 11 minute track. The lead instrument, at times, sounds like it’s talking to you; at times a whisper, at times raucously laughing along to a joke it knows and wants you to hear, and sometimes, it just wants you to give in. I gave in.

Sir Sly’s ‘You Haunt Me’ sounds way better in the AMTRAC remix. Seriously, try listening to the original after you have heard this, no comparison at all. Wonderful when a song’s texture and feel changes completely in a different mix.

Kate Boy makes the dirtiest, illest riffs ever. Such a distinctive sound this song has, with just the right kind of thematic connection to their earlier ‘Northern Lights’, which blew my mind a few years ago. A song like this needs to be followed by something as dreamy as ‘Technicolor Beat’, just so your heart calms down. An aural relaxant, let’s say.

Don’t you love the name ‘Whilk and Misky’? The flamenco guitars and claps, the voice, and especially the moment when the bass drums jump in – this feels like the perfect summer song.

Laura Welsh’s moment of fame came this year with the 50 Shades of Grey soundtrack, but it is this song that made me fall for her. Reminds me of the likes of Modern Talking and Laura Brannigan.

Sometimes, you just want a song like ‘Cheerleader’ playing in your life. No pretension, no deep lyrics, just something you can bop your head – and body – to.

The saddest thing about listening to Burial’s ‘Archangel’ for the first time is wondering why I hadn’t it heard it so far, and the crippling thought that there is so much great music that I haven’t heard yet. This song (and album) came out in 2007, can you believe it?

Did you like this? Which track did you like/hate the most? Do you know music that you think I may like? Did you think my commentary is annoying? Does my taste suck? Talk to me at beatzo@gmail.com, or leave a comment.

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Music

Compact Discs lol

I upgraded my phone recently, so the phone adapter to the music system in my car no longer works. I am too cheap to spend 30$ to buy a new adapter (and too broke to buy a new car), so there was no alternative but to make use of the 6-CD changer that lies unused all this time. Well, except on road trips, when I take some backup discs along in case my phone runs out of battery, not an overly infrequent occurrence with the older model. I don’t buy too many CDs nowadays. Who does, really? Spotify satisfies nearly every musical itch and then some. T-mobile, bless their soul, does not charge for streaming music, so it’s no longer necessary to keep everything cached offline, eating up precious phone drive-space. But the biggest problem I have with playing CDs is that scrobbling comes to a standstill. And believe me, I love my scrobbling.

Look ma, it's 2002!

Besides, who needs accessories like this?

So there are six CDs in my car now. And this is a post about what they are.

Disc 1: Sylvan Esso – their self-titled album.

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I heard this band when they opened for the Tune-yards in May this year, at the Fonda theater. (That concert, FYI, resulted in me being hearing-impaired for the better part of two days, a scary but well-deserved situation because I braved a cold to go attend it. )

Everybody I talk to thinks Sylvan Esso is a person, but apparently the name comes from an Assassin’s Creed character. The band is vocalist Amelia Meath and producer/knob-twiddler Nick Sanborn, and the two came together from different ends of the musical spectrum. Meath was an indie folk artist who was part of a 3-member band called Mountain Man (who sound exactly like you think they would) and also part of Feist’s backing band during her Metals tour. Nick Sanborn was bassist for alt-rock band Megafaun and occasional DJ/producer operating under the name Made for Oak. What gets me about them, other than the lovely way the vocals, lyrics and the music mesh to create their unique sound, is the relentless energy both of them brought in their live performance. Hard to explain that about from a lady with a mic and a guy hunched behind a table full of audio gear, but that is why live shows kick ass. You see the way the two of them are into the music, and that elevates the songs from ear-friendly pop candy to something primal. To get an idea of what I mean, check out this live version of ‘Wolf’, one of my top three songs in the album.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PSXPvY8og-g[/youtube]

I tend to enjoy this album at two levels. There are times when the energy of the songs carries me along on weekday mornings, bringing an extra bounce to my step as I park the car and walk into the office. Other times, I focus on the words – contemplative, thought-provoking and deep – and they bring me peace. Yes, it’s that kind of an album.

Between the time I first heard them and now, Sylvan Esso seems to have exploded into the mainstream scene, with lots of airplay, an appearance on Jimmy Fallon, and a bunch of sold-out headlining concerts around the country. They totally deserve it.

Disc 2: Oh Land – Wish Bone

oh_land_wish_bone

I have talked about Oh Land before, and when I heard tidings of her new album last year, it made me giddy with delight. After I heard the album, of course, I may or may not have had a seizure, from the different ways in which Ms Fabricious’ music hit my pleasure centers. The production on the album is top-notch, and every song is a gem. From the percussion-driven guitar and synth riffs of ‘Bird in an Aeroplane’ to the harp-and-choir-backed ‘3 Chances’ ; from the quirky near-dissonance of ‘Boxer’ to the joyous feel-good chorus of ‘Cherry on Top’; the foot-tapping ‘woo hoo’s in ‘Pyromaniac’ to Wish Bone covers a wide range of emotions, musically and lyrically. ( The most memorable lines, to me, appear in ‘3 Chances’ – “If kittens all got 9 lives/and zombies resurrected/could it be with you and me/the pattern’s neverending”).

Sure, I realize that my repeated playing of this CD brings even the tail-end tracks into my ambit. (the term ‘B-side’ should be officially retired from any music discussion, I find it somewhat demeaning. The unfortunate placement of a song in a sequential list should not lead to the implication that it is inferior to the first few members of that list) There is one called ‘Green Card’ towards the end of the album, co-written by Sia Furler, which could take on lead singles of other, lesser artistes head-on. Fitting that the album comes to end with ‘Love You Better’ and ‘First to Say Goodnight’, two of my favorite songs.

Disc 3: Suzanne Vega – Close-Up Vol 1: Love Songs

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I love Suzanne Vega. If you have a soul, you do too. She makes music that refuses to be associated with a genre or a moment in time, or be affected by musical trends and styles – much like herself. The Close-up series of albums is her attempt to rerecord her older songs in stripped-down versions, with minimal instruments and  studio theatrics. She also grouped them by theme, the other three volumes being ‘People and Places’, ‘Songs of Family’ and ‘State of Being’. I bought ‘Love Songs’ because hey – love songs! But really, it was because of ‘Caramel’. Listening to this version was as much a shock as hearing it for the first time – it’s just her voice and a single acoustic guitar, quite a difference from the bossa-nova trappings of the original. Time has passed since then, and right now, I feel like if the original version of ‘Caramel’ is a first-date song, seductive and thrilling, this interpretation is the song you would want to play when the two of you are watching the sun go down on a beach, twenty years later.

The songs in this album, sadly, have replaced the originals in my head. When I go back to Retrospective, the 2-CD set that pal Chandru gave me a long, long time ago, and which got me hooked to Ms Vega, I find the reverb and the beats somewhat over-bearing, the orchestral effects that drew me to the music seem really out of place. Close-up puts the focus squarely on her voice and the words, and it works so well. ‘Stocking’ gives me a boner every single time I hear it (and it makes me want to clap along when she says ‘Oh yeah’). I smile to the words of ‘If You Were In My Movie’, and I try very hard not drive off the road while bopping along to  ‘(I Will Never Be) Your Maggie May’. I have managed well so far, I guess.

(1000+ words, so the next three CDs will be in a future post. They are sort of connected, so it makes sense. Sorta.)

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Music

My Favorite Music of 2011 (2 of 2)

Best song finale of the year: Bjork –  Crystalline.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MvaEmPQnbWk[/youtube]

I’ve already talked raved about this song in detail here. The glorious drum-and-bass-soaked last minute made my year. Seriously.

Feel-good song of the year: Fallulah – Bridges

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=05d7VWTm9dI[/youtube]

Everything about this song – the “woo-woo”s, Fallulah’s quirky voice, the “hee-yah”s that punctuate the middle of the song, the outrageously stylish video (which is linked here from Vimeo because apparently it’s not officially released in the US yet)  – every single thing about this song drives me nuts. Geronimo!

Favorite bit from a Soundtrack: The Chemical Brothers – Hanna’s Theme

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tZtEtiJxQxM[/youtube]

I found other OST albums more fulfilling as complete packages, but the main theme from Hanna, a gentle melody that marries layered humming with echoey guitars and a growling bass. The vocal version by Stephanie Dosen adds to the wintry charm, and adds chunky beats towards the end. Very unlike what one would expect from a Chemical Brothers track.

Mash-up of the Year: RajStar – Billie Chikku

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hCvxXiinKfQ[/youtube]

NY-based DJ RajStar’s Rahman Noodles, cringeworthy as the name may be, caused tiny explosions of wonder in my brain cell. He mashes up AR Rahman with artistes such as Kanye West, M.I.A, and the one that mixes Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean with Chikku Bukku is a clear winner. The rest of the album’s not bad, either. Go download it for free from his website, right here.

The Other Mash-up of the Year: Muchuu – Tornadoes, Moons, Bridges and Balloons

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Gss11caMEw[/youtube]

Because I can afford to cheat and put two instead of one in the same category. Because this is one of the most innovative mash-ups I’ve ever seen. Because the video is hynotic and it will make you smile. Because this song mixes SIXTEEN different tracks into one cohesive melody.

WTF Song of the Year: Himesh Reshammiya – Mango

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1qnA2qS3JIU[/youtube]

“I miss you baby, like mango.” Is this satire? Is this post-modern Bollywood? Is it Himesh Reshammiya going beyond limits of human comprehension in terms of blending style, humor and viral marketing? Does any of it matter? Why are we here? Why were we born? Because this song demanded it.

Favorite Video: Lykke Li – I Follow Rivers

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vZYbEL06lEU&ob=av2e[/youtube]

This song is huge in Romania, and it’s only fair that pal Cristi pointed me to it. I am not much of a video person, but I loved the somewhat-open-to-interpretation nature of the video.

Ok, you know what? Fuck this shit, I think I’ll just come up with a mix-tape again, with my favorite songs, instead of just talking about them. (Actually, I totally want to go finish Lee Child’s Killing Floor, and am too half-assed to finish this post. So there)

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