Wednesday, July 28, 2010

So far, so good. Played, not sung.

When you're asked to review the debut album of someone you knew when you were young, it's in danger of being even more subjective than usual. It took several bouts of listening to be sure that the feelings came from the music and not nostalgia. Since there's no way of separating myself from it, this "review" goes on my own blog rather than the independent space it was supposed to be for.

A/J's So Far So Good is, in the artist's words, a celebration of “clarity gained from chaos.” That's the sort of line that works very well in sleeve notes, but music is a personal experience so I'm not even going to attempt to match his reasons to what I hear. A distant memory of a guitar that accompanied campfire Hotel Californias died swiftly, unregretted. In its place is a clear, young sound, very now, very here, resisting classification, stirring a pleased surprise. For example, what A/J's guitar does with Vande Mataram (one of two tributes on the album) is to patriotism, what sufism is to religion – the pure soul of the thing, when it's not tethered to tenets. I don't know the technical musical terms for it, so I will use my own equivalents. The grammar and syntax of this album are flawless, the punctuation meticulous, the language learnt in good schools. The style is original, and the voice, true, though slightly hesitant as it would be in a first album. This is a musician with considerable creative energy, just discovering his music, and the excitement of his journey is infectious.

An instrumental album creates another pitfall for the amateur reviewer: the music becomes about yourself. Listening to it online, where each song is accompanied by a brief note on mood and visualization, I was surprised to learn that Jaisalmer was about snake charmers and fires burning because for me it was a Harley Davidson on a desert highway. I was equally startled to find that The Journey Begins was about trying to see waterfalls in darkness because I saw water in darkness too. The intricacies of Derailed that seem to leave a message just out of reach of the consciousness and the unplayed notes of private, domestic joys in Mady's Tune both seem to my unguarded mind to be underscored by the irrevocable rhythm of a departing train. Did the artist intend it – who knows?

For the first time in two years of surrendering incipient audiophilehood to an iPod, I wish my Linn was set up properly for this album.

A/J: So Far So Good, Ashaanti Records, Bangalore, January 2010

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Note to Bangalore’s drivers

- Think one move ahead. Just one, that’s all I’m asking. If you’re going straight, don’t get in the lane turning left and then honk at the cars in front when your light turns green. And for God’s sake stop changing lanes in the middle of an intersection.

- This will also prevent you from looking more than usually stupid by honking at buses that have stopped at bus stops. That is what buses do. If you can’t work out earlier that you need to get out from behind them, you just have to wait until they’re done instead of telling the driver things about his sister.

- What is it about your upbringing that makes you speed up and squeeze moronically around a car that’s already more than half-turned into the road?

- If there’s a long line at a green light, it means that it will take a while for the cars at the back to move. And when they do, it can only be at the speed of those in front. Yes it’s frustrating when you can see the green light up ahead from your high perch in your SUV, and I don’t want to sit through another red light either, but honking at me continuously for half a kilometer of crawling is not only rude, it shows you up as having the IQ of a gnat.

- When there’s heavy traffic, vehicles going in one direction are sometimes marooned at the intersection when other lights turn green. This is not a personal insult. And trying to go around and through them only makes the snarl worse. Why is this so hard to comprehend?

- To the blue Honda on the ring road this morning: If you want to drive at 30kmph, please do it on the service road, not the fast lane. Yes there is one. It’s the one you were on this morning. I am the person who rolled her window down and abused you in Kannada.

- To the dangerous red Santro at the other end of the spectrum who cut me and several others off at the speed of light: Don’t think I haven’t noted your number and called it in.

- To the white Scorpio who sat in my boot for about five kilometers and then overtook through a crowded bus stop: Ditto.

- Also, bus stops are not lay-bys. When you park there to drink tender-coconut water, the buses have to stop in the middle of the road. And there’ll always be a motorcycle unwilling to wait 20 seconds who will ride ahead and get tangled up with alighting passengers.

- On the subject of which, here’s a question for the motorcyclist on Sarjapur Road: Do you believe you’re immortal? Is that why your helmet sits on your mirror, preventing you from seeing that there’s a car in the lane you’re weaving onto? The next time one of you tries to overtake from the left when my left indicator is on, I will swerve and sacrifice a door or two just to see you crash and burn.

- Question for the cyclist I've seen more than once at the Kundanhalli traffic light: Do you think road rules do not apply to you? You may be greener than Othello and the favourite child of the conserved Earth, but the next time you jump a red light, I will not brake. I wish the fire truck you held up today hadn’t.

- To the giant BMW with no license plate that was casually parked right across my turning: It was me that left the rude note on your windscreen. I understand that if you have the wherewithal to own a 7 Series in India, you probably own the Government, the RTO and the internal revenue as well, but if you do it again, I will say it with a tire iron.

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