Hello. We will be widening our purview this time. Not for the faint hearted is this, the second fancast from the murky depths of fandom. We will review a concert. We will make lists. We will speak freely and frankly about camels. And most importantly, we will do all of this together, because togetherness is a many-splendoured thing.
To kick things off, let me just say that if there is a better live act in India than the Raghu Dixit Project, then I haven’t seen it. For one, they kick Indian Ocean’s ass, and work wonderfully well in both the rock and fusion contexts. Stupid word actually, ‘fusion music’; just like ‘world cinema’. Suffice to say they have a driving, multi-hued sound, and an unpretentious, talented lead man. Ragu Dixit’s voice soared the other evening at the Habitat centre, over the sounds of his own acoustic strumming, bass, drums, and electric guitar and violin. It’s a trememdous voice, resonant, soulful, capable of some serious thunder, and it may be fair to say that on their studio album it’s the only thing that really works. Which is a real pity, because their studio output is no indication of what they can do live. They look hilariously unfit as a rock ‘n roll band – they dress like folk dancers and perform barefoot – but they sure play like one. Their sound is a varition on Carnatic and other Indian folk idioms, filtered through a Phish/ DMB sensibility. The lead guitarist and drummer were particularly impressive– both provided steady support in the background until the time came to jam, at which point they, along with other band members morphed into a loud, headbanging avatar, a transition both unexpected and thrilling. All in all, a rare Indo-folk-rock experience that did not underwhelm.
Have been buying albums like crazy these past few months. Musicland in Saket makes it tough for me to avoid doing so - they've had the best collection in town for a while now, and I’ve got some rare stuff there lately, like Captain Beefheart’s ‘Trout Mask Replica’, The Byrds’ ‘Sweetheart of the Rodeo’, the posthomously released ‘The Immortal Otis Redding’ and Uncle Tupelo’s ‘No Depression’. I spoke about Beefheart in the last edition, and am still hearing Redding, but I can tell you about the other two – no least because of the similarities I saw in them. The Byrds’ album I had heard of – it’s a critical darling – and my expectations were pretty high. Its tasteful enough, with the McGuinn & Co by now in full-blown country mode – but I found the extras more exciting. Included in the edition I bought were 6 tracks by the International Submarine Band, the group Gram Parsons was heading before he joined the Byrds on Sweetheart. It sounds like a more countrified Tom Petty, with a hint of Beatle influence and a rollicking pace that leaves the stately 'Sweetheart of the Rodeo' behind.
I’m sure the members of Uncle Tupelo would have liked the International Submarine Band – their sound is an equally rollicking (if initially perplexing) combiation of hardcore and country twang. I discovered this band through their single ‘Factory belt’, a start-stop country number which sounds like the Minutemen doing a version of ‘Sin City’, and it spurred me to read up on the band. I was stunned to learn that it had as one of its three members, Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, current enjoying a critical holiday in the sun. It also had Jay Farrar – who went on to form Son Volt – who shares lead vocals and shows off some nifty guitar chops. It’s their first album, and has a world-weary attitude that seems at odds with the fact that they were barely out of their teens when this was released. For those for don’t realy care, this is country music that’s not only driving but also great for driving along to.
Any addition to my office who comes bearing Steely Dan albums in a pen drive is a welcome addition. Within the space of a few weeks she has managed to introduce me to some very diverse music, only asking in return that I do not torture her with lectures on rock chronology circa 1965-69. Laura Marling’s album, 'Alas, I cannot swim', was pleasant enough. Coffee shop folk for the most part, she has a nice husky voice, reminiscent of Norah Jones, but a little less intimate. The album is likely to grow on you, but on first listen, the standout track is the opening single, ‘Ghosts’.
The alt-coutry group Clem Snide channels Neil young for the most part on the album ‘The end of love’, but their leader, the overly-literate Eef Barzeley needs less thesaurus than he is being allowed to use at present. Only two numbers manage to circumvent pretensiousness – ‘Fill me with your light’ is considerable bollocks, but the early REM-channeling music is gorgeous, and 'Made for TV movie’ where a little girl duets on the chorus. You can almost see Barzelay lean down towards her to join in the ‘la la la’ chorus – making the least wordy moment on the album the most genuinely touching. The one album I liked unequivocally was ‘The Last Broadcast’ by The Doves. They’re a psychedelic Brit band, with a penchant for long, extended jams, but in the Verve mould rather than the Pink Floyd one. Having suciently summed up their sound, dropped a nod to one of my favorites and dissed a famous band that I have never liked, my work here is done.
Now for the list. It’s that time of the decade (the end) when pretentious twits start making lists of the best-of-decade variety. With every intention of joining the bandwagon, I decided to start with my very own ‘Top 10 singles of the decade’ list. But its tough to keep up with the newest and brightest in pop music if you’re in India and you don’t write for Rolling Stone, and I found myself rejecting every option I came up with. Then, in a flash of inspiration, I got number one, and it made perfect sense. It is obviously ‘Paper Planes’ by M.I.A, and I’ll tell you why –
- This has undeniably been hip-hop’s decade, and while I am not the greatest fan of this genre, it makes sense that the decade’s best song should be filtered through a hip-hop sensibility
- It doesn’t stop there though. Punk rock (the guitar sample is ‘Straight to Hell’ by The Clash), raggae, dub, gangsta rap (“Bonafide hustler making my name”) and the cash registers from Pink Floyd’s ‘Money’ all make their presence felt
- In a decade where wildly different cultural and economic realities were thrown together in admixtures that were sometimes entertaining, sometimes violent, this was a polygot number that took boasts that could have come from dislocated urban youth in NYC ten years ago and transplanted them in the Third World. Turns out “Some I murder, some I let go” is a universal sentiment
Its 5:30. I have to go. Where’s my costume? Where’s that telephone booth?
In my car stereo: Outkast, ‘Stankonia’
In my Discman: ‘The Immortal Otis Redding’
In my sights: The Supersonics, ‘Maby Baking’