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
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