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Indie album reviews: November 2017

Bison (Skrat)

I have plenty of f-words for Skrat’s new album. Fierce. Fiery. Ferocious. Flamboyant. Flawless. I could go on, but my Editor frowns at my excessive use of allegory. The point, however, is that Skrat have outdone themselves. I never imagined that they would disappoint, but Bison does much justice to the oft-used adjective “epic”. I’m not sure what to exalt first – the crisp hooks and the addictive riffs, the spitting snarky words or the unending kicks of rhythmic adrenaline. The tracks move from ominous to facile to dystopian to frenzied. The songs are darker than their previous musical avatars, and sketch out a saga of devastation with biting satire.

The Queen is in slumber. Chaos has arisen, and that means General Bison shows up to stir up some trouble. His intent? Wallop the population of “Skrat-verse” into sanity with some fire and brimstone. He’s the hero humanity needs and hopefully not one that it deserves. Yet.

What never ceases to amaze me about this band is the consistent levels of energy they insist on maintaining in every track. Bison has no ballads; its all high-octane, exquisitely crafted hack-and-slash sentimentality. The band hijacks your attention and treats it like its personal phonetic stomping ground. I couldn’t pick a favourite, but “Raptor”, “Fireworks”, “Wake Up”, “Siren” and “Bison” keep coming up in the playlist.

As Written in the Stars (Easy Wanderlings)

Charming. A simple word, applicable to all kinds of things that may please the eyes or the spirit. You use it to talk about the guy who picks up the hat you dropped, the old woman who leaves some homemade pudding for your dessert, the sudden whiff of some childhood fragrance in the winter air, lazy spring afternoons, and this album.

The debut album of this Pune-based band is simple, and ever so memorable. Their sounds draw attention without any ostentation whatsoever. Their tones are fluid, intimate; they call for long-winded listens by campfires (real or in your head) by yourself with hot chocolate or with the kind of friends who don’t say a word when the song is on. The band wastes nothing, keeps their songs shorn of all but the warmest sentimentality. On the first listen, you’ll think of Simon and Garfunkel and Bread. When vocalist Pratika sings “Enjoy It While It Lasts”, you’ll see why she lists Aretha Franklin and Etta James as inspiration.

In 2016, I heard them at Nh7 Pune. I have no idea who they were, but when they began I remember that both me and my friends dropped ourselves to the grass before their stage. We sipped our drinks in the shade, spread out our legs and stayed for the whole set. Until this month, I didn’t bother to look them up. My mistake. Find them, hear them, and I’ll wager that you too, will stay.

Shenanigans (Arjun and the Teenage Men)

For a debut EP, Shenanigans works fairly well. The music is comforting, safe and does not devolve into anything mundane. The lyrics, especially those of “Castles in the Sky” are enough to induce interest and if you are so inclined, lead you to a few winding thoughts. “She” has some interesting guitar work. However, despite how pleasant the experience is, it is not particularly memorable. It is an excellent first EP, but the tracks do not leave much of a mark unless you are really paying attention. They may beckon your attention, but do not really compel it. The entire album weaves a familiar musical tapestry. If you have a lazy moment, it’s a lovely something to soak up with a solitary teacup. You will not be bored, but you will be some yards away from being enchanted.

We Abuse a lot, So What? (Punk on Toast)

The four piece punk rock outfit asks a valid question. Much of their third album asks valid questions. Tough, scary ones that are frighteningly relevant these days. They do it in the guise of incredibly high-octane, unrelenting, breathless punk progression. The tracks, however, seem to have a hard time standing out from each other. You start with one, you get pumped, and three songs later, you feel like there is a certain effect that is looping back into itself. The lyrics are deliciously provocative but they get lost in the somewhat unchanging narrative. The music is angry, potent and laden with crushing satire. It rampages through sensibilities embalmed by comfortable, myopic consumerism, but it could have used a few more smidgeons of variations while doing so.

Believe in You (Raja Kumari)

There is no dearth of incredible women for little girls to look up to. Raja Kumari is one of them. An Indian-American artist who has been lauded for her songwriting prowess (collaborations with Fall Out Boy, Fifth Harmony, Gwen Stefani and Iggy Azalea), she has now stepped up to hail her cultural roots with the magic of her passionate artistry. Interspersed of shots of her as a child, dancing at the feet of Nataraj at the Malibu Hindu Temple, her single is a powerful reminder that beautiful cultural identities can be fused with breathtaking sensitivity. She struts fearlessly, singing of conviction in the self. What is more striking than the immediately catchy beats, the infusion of classical India instrumentation and the emancipating words is the video.

As an artist, Kumari is, in turns, irreverent, defiant, ecstatic and sensual. However, she is perpetually in love with herself, her art and her history. The video has her stand in glory entirely her own – unashamedly a woman of colour who is perfectly aware of her emotive and creative depth. She is a departure from all that we are accustomed to seeing as worthy of celebration. Her music is overwhelmingly inspiring, and the best way to qualify the effect it has on you is best defined by the mantra she chants in the song:

Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu

“May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all.”

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