Thursday, October 9, 2014

Puns, trains and automobiles

In September 2013, Bombay Bassment's drummer Levin Mendes and ex-Aftertaste vocalist Keegan Pereira teamed up to work on a couple of tracks. They ended up forming Laxmi Bomb along with bassist Ruell Barretto and keyboardist Joaquim Fernandes. The band released its first EP, H, in March this year. That five-song collection — a tribute of sorts to the city of Mumbai — had nods to modern electronic music, disco and '90s Bollywood pop (mercifully, it was sample-free). Now, with the release of their second EP Mah'Bharat, Laxmi Bomb is gently expanding its horizons.

The band started live-testing the tracks that comprise this EP around five months ago. Their modus operandi, according to Mendes, is to work out a track's kinks during their performances and only then record it. "The way we work is, we compose a track, play it live so we can get an idea of how it's perceived," he said. "After about three or four months, when we're completely set with the track, we go to the studio and cut it."

Mah'Bharat's opening track, Love Day Loot, opens with a plinky synth figure that'll warm the hearts of anyone who loves Gupt-era Viju Shah. Apart from this, however, the Bollywood influence is more muted on this EP as compared to the first. Instead, the group manages to show off an impressive amount of stylistic variation while remaining within the ambit of their gently rocking electro pop sound. Keralight alternates between a sarangi and wash of keyboards and an ominous section that recalls the group's first single Major Major. Andaman Eve, a video of which has recently been released, has close harmonies and a sepia tone somewhat reminiscent of Beirut's Scenic World. 

As can be inferred from the song titles, the EP is informed by the band's visits to various parts of the country: Kerala, Shillong, the Andamans. "We started travelling to different places for gigs and personal vacations, and that ended up inspiring some of these tracks," Mendes said. Another difference between the two EPs is that while H was primarily conceived by Keegan and Mendes — the two other members arrived when the album was "70-80% sorted", Mendes said — Mah'Bharat has contributions from all four members. Most tracks come together with Pereira taking responsibility for the words and Mendes working out a basic melody before throwing it over to the band. "Because we're a four-piece act, I restrict myself from completing tracks," Mendes said. 

You can hear the fruits of this approach in Mah'Bharat. The songs sound more like there's a band playing, rather than something electronically pieced together. Barretto's bass now features more prominently; it combines especially well with Mendes' drumming on "Shillong Train Running" (the reference is to the Doobie Brothers' "Long Train Running"). The only drawback — a minor one — is the triteness of some of the lyrics: "Born steel with the thoughts of a man's appeal/ born steel with a hunky-dory back deal" walks the thin line between nonsense verse and plain nonsense.

Having debuted Mah'Bharat at Blue Frog in Mumbai last week, the band will continue to work on new tracks, which will probably turn up on another EP. (Mendes and Barretto will be especially busy in the coming months – their other band, hip-hop/rock/reggae outfit Bombay Bassment, is set to release its long-awaited debut album.) They also plan to record the debut Laxmi Bomb album and release it by the end of 2015. It should be worth the wait. Like its album art, which shows a modern-day cheerharan, Mah'Bharat approaches the past with humour and a refreshing lack of reverence.

This piece appeared in The Sunday Guardian.

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