Thursday, February 28, 2013

Book Review: Words of Smiths

Author: Various
Language: English
Pages: 122
Price: Rs.200
Publisher: All About Books Global

ISBN Number: 9788192569017

A different city and a weirdly good weather- missing my siblings- my fellow guitars- but books are not doubt cool companions. A friend from another metro texted sometime back- “food for your brainy strings- inside “Words of Smiths”- presented by Wizkonect”.- Thus, I ignored some of my best buys of the month and picked up my review copy.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Rock & Roll Jihad: A Muslim Rock Star's Revolution

Salman Ahmad was born into a fairly charmed life: the son of a manager at Pakistan International Airlines, he travelled all over the world as a child, and migrated with his family to Tappan, New York, at the age of 12, where he discovered the world of concerts, liberal values, cross-cultural camaraderie and his own passion for music-making. So when he was sent back to Lahore in 1982 to pursue medical studies, the shock of dislocation was compounded by the shock of censorship and conservatism in an increasingly insular society. When the young Ahmad’s precious guitar is broken by a member of the self-proclaimed moral police, his destiny is sealed. He too becomes radicalized, but instead of retreating into bigotry and hatred, he accepts as his personal jihad the spreading of love and understanding, through the power of music.
Today, Salman Ahmad is known as Pakistan’s first real rock star, a musician who brought a message of hope to a politically complex part of the world with the bands Vital Signs and Junoon, and an ambassador for cultural relations whose work has dealt with repairing the divides between Islam and the West, and Pakistan and India. Rock and Roll Jihad, his memoir of his personal journey so far, is an inspiring account by a compassionate messenger of peace.
The book starts out a little awkwardly, peppered with too many parenthetical explanations – take this single line for an example, “Salman mian [young man], you want to become a mirasi [low-class musician]? Your parents have high expectations of you and you want to waste the rest of your life playing this tuntunna [gizmo]?” But as the greater ambition of this memoir – to be a reconciliatory and celebratory bridge between divides – becomes clear, this is forgiven for how helpful it might be for a young, international audience. Told in an easygoing style, brushes with glamour – like taking Mick Jagger to see dancing girls – and brushes with politics – like being banned by the government, and losing band members to ego clashes and religious fanaticism – sit comfortably with an abidingly deep spirituality.

Rock and Roll Jihad is recommended regardless of whether one is a fan of Salman Ahmad’s music – although the accompanying 12-track CD offers a bonus to anyone who is. Best suited for teenage readers, who might see in Ahmad a wonderful example of how rebellion and anger can be galvanized to heal, this simply-worded, tactfully passionate memoir is a stirring read.
Ahmad’s jihad is a beautiful one – inspired by the poets of the past and the peacemakers of the present, he sees himself and his work as a necessary voice in the greater struggle against forces of ignorance, prejudice and restriction. This book, peacefully narrated and with no hint of the ugly anger that colours the work of many activists, succeeds in spreading a message both in support of greater global harmony, and in encouraging the young to take heart as they pursue their dreams. Like all truly enlightened people, Ahmad leads by example.

Born And Raised - Music By John Mayer
 John Mayer has redeemed himself with his new album.  Let’s be honest, we all know he’s talented and well – he knows he’s talented.  However, Born and Raised wipes away arrogance and shows a simple, more humble side of the star singer who's had his share of trouble and embarrassment.

With the bluegrass/country sound and strong lyrics, Mayer’s new album is number one on the iTunes album chart.  It’s no surprise why – Mayer escaped the city and the public eye to write his album so he could truly concentrate on his lyrics and compositions.  The lyrics in this album are moving and expose a vulnerable side of Mayer.

The first single on the album that I listen to was “Queen of California.” and although the liked the new sound I wasn't too impressed with the song itself. The song is very simple and over all light and airy. I wasn't expecting the rest of the album to be outstanding. But songs like "Whiskey Whiskey Whiskey" and the title track itself turned that around pretty quickly. The resemblance to Dylan was welcome (acoustic guitar and the harp, come on, can you NOT compare with Dylan?) and the fact that he still managed to sound himself was impressive.

“Shadow Days” is another great track about new beginnings. He really shows off his guitar skills in this song and the melody is full of soul. And if that doesn't impress you, "Something Like Olivia" is almost guaranteed to succeed.

Mayer went under the knife sometime during the recording of Born and Raised - granuloma - and you can definitely hear the strain in his voice. But somehow, it fits into the whole sound and feel of the album. Lucky coincidence? Fate? Who can tell?.

Born And Raised is not Mayer's best album. That crown might just always remain with Continuum. But you wouldn't be too far from the truth to tout this as the second best.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Omar Rodriguez Lopez & John Frusciante


         In case you don’t know either of them, both Omar Rodriguez and John Frusciante are undisputed geniuses. Criminally underrated musicians, Lopez and Frusciante have been close friends since the first half of the 2000s when Frusciante guested on a Mars Volta record – Omar’s own band. The EP is not a collection of tracks. It is a proper sequence of sounds. And by golly, what sounds they are. The EP from the first track 4:17 am to the last, 5:45 am is like an acid trip. Incredibly visual and suggestive with moments of panic but ultimately, one of the most beautiful things you’ll come across. Here’s an excerpt from an interview Omar gave on this EP:
On many of your solo records you actually have John Frusciante, formerly of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers performing the guitar parts, I'm curious as to how that relationship came about?

We met at a club years ago, one of my band's De Facto was playing, and John was a fan of De Facto so he was there, and I just met this guy in the crowd and we started talking about Louis Benoit films and I said that I didn't know anybody else who liked Louis Benoit and he was like "Oh yeah you should come over to my house and we'll watch some" and I was like "Oh yea let's do that, have you got such and such, cool I haven't seen that, let's do it." So I went round his house and he had a bunch of guitars and he was like "Oh yeah I play in this group Red Hot Chilli Peppers" so it was kinda like that. I personally didn't know anything about the Chilli Peppers besides obviously just knowing the name because they were one of the biggest groups around, but I didn't know obviously what any of them looked like or what their songs were besides that bridge down town song (Under The Bridge) and so it was nice you know, it was nice for him and it was nice for me.

It was a true friendship that started over a love for Louis Benoit and then we started playing some music together as you would with another person who loves music and then eventually you realise that one of your closest friends is quite literally a musical genius so you just try to pick up as much as you can from that person and make sure that you are having a good time and that results in records together when you can. He is also a go-to person because I can write a lot of things that I can't even play, I write things that I hear in my head and can't play sometimes so it's nice to have a master musician, and also a lot of the times hearing the thoughts I had in my head become a tangible reality, or even just seeing him do it, then all of a sudden I'm able to do it. So that works out good too because I'm a very visual person, I don’t have any musical training or theory or anything, it's more like when I tried skateboarding when I was a kid, if I watched somebody do it I could do it, "Oh, that's how you do an ollie? What are you doing with your back leg there, ohhh ok," so it's the same when somebody plays guitar and they can play something or find their way around something and I can look at their hand then I get it and I can do it. *laughs*

It’s really interesting that you didn’t know anything about him when you guys met, that’s a cool little twist, people probably wouldn’t have thought it went down that way.

Yea it was great, and like I said it was De Facto so it was like a small, two hundred person club and the fact that he was coming from a band that big and even knew who De Facto was just shows his interest in everything music related and everything that happens with records and *laughs*, when I first went to his house I took him a copy of the first Mars Volta EP because he liked De Facto and I said “here this is this brand new thing that we’re doing and we’re gonna be giving all our energy to” and the next time I visited him a couple of nights later he was like “Yea man that’s so cool on the record how you do this and this” and I realised as we were having the conversation that he had learned and memorised and was able to play the entire EP from front to back, all the parts.

Wow, that’s amazing.

*laughs* I know right? He was getting excited about things, and he knows all this theory so he was like “Oh, it’s great how you put that seventh over the third and the five” and all that kinda talk and he’s playing it for me so slowly I’m realising he learnt this whole thing that I wrote then broke it down in his mind which is really impressive.

Notable tracks: 0=2 and VTA.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Scar Tissue - Anthony Kiedis's Story

One song, one book – one man’s incredible story. Scar Tissue is a book that brings you the stories of underdogs and an overdose of all that’s cool about rock ‘n roll. Anthony Kiedis, the frontman of arguably the biggest rock band in the world right now, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, writes about his life and his music.
Of course, rock ‘n roll is never short of a healthy dose of sex and a not-so-healthy dose of drug abuse. So reader’s discretion is advised.
The most damning indictment of the book is that there is literally no narrative structure here; Kiedis does not impose any sort of dramatic development on his story, so unless one is familiar with the outlines of Chili Pepper history, this is just one really, really, really long picaresque. And I use that word in its strongest pejorative sense: this is 465 pages of “this happened; then this happened; then this happened; then this happened; then this happened; then this happened; then this happened; then this happened; then this happened; oh, and then this happened; did I mention that this happened? No? Anyways, then this happened; then this happened…” and on and on seemingly add infinitude.
Which is too bad: the Chili Peppers’ story could make for fascinating reading. They let their freak flag fly and eventually the music-buying public wandered over, trying to figure out what these guys were up to. They never really compromised their music, with even their poppiest tunes (except for the execrable One Hot Minute) slanted just slightly off-kilter to what the rest of the mainstream was doing. And the personalities in the band are, to put it mildly, eccentric: Kiedis is the beautiful, rapping, flowing, sex god, drug addict, front man; bassist Flea is the manic musician, the kind of guy who would probably be terribly unsettling to sit beside on the subway, but who, by all accounts, has a heart of gold; current (and former… it’s a long story) guitarist John Frusciante is a drug-damaged artiste; and Chad Smith, the drummer (of course) is the odd one out, the guy who doesn’t seem to fit in so well. Very little of this comes through in Scar Tissue; for example, Smith, who has been drumming for the band for more than fifteen years is barely mentioned, and almost no interactions between Kiedis and Smith are recounted, other than a drunken near-brawl in a hotel.
The story of the band really needs to be told by an outsider. Kiedis’ account (and yes, I understand that it is an autobiography, but come on) is too relentlessly solipsistic: other people function so tangentially to the story that they end up being props. One of the more chilling moments in reading the book is realizing that the overdose death of Hillel Slovak (the Chili Peppers’ original guitarist), who Kiedis refers to as his best friend and “soul mate”, prompts approximately a page of reflection from Kiedis. That’s it. After that, it’s on to further bouts of drug-taking, startlingly dysfunctional relationships with women and occasional musings on sobriety. More than anything this is the story of a raging drug addict who happens to be in a successful band. Unfortunately, the drug addict’s story (and, really, eventually they’re all the same) can’t sustain itself for the length of the book: it just becomes monotonous.
Scar Tissue is obviously not for everyone. In fact it’s probably not even for the casual fan of the band. It’s designed exclusively for the passionate fans and so it’s very hard to judge the value of this book since the entire consumer market is made up of people who will obviously highly of the book. But one thing’s for sure, if you’re as big a RHCP fan as I am, you will not regret grabbing a copy of this.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Ganesh Talkies and Someplace Else

Back when I was in Calcutta, I used to frequent the underground music scene. And it was worth it. There were some really amazing bands and musicians.And a goldmine of diversity - everything from freestyle jazz to death metal. And although I don’t care much about the latter, I have to admit that some of the metal bands in Calcutta are really talented. Calcutta has three major music venues, all of which you must check out, if you’re ever there – Someplace Else, Big Ben, Hotel Kennilworth, and The Basement.

Someplace Else was my favorite. It has introduced many of the best city bands including Cassini’s Division, The Supersonics, Hip Pocket, Five Little Indians and, more recently, The Ganesh Talkies. Formed in 2011, Ganesh Talkies is quite a unique experience, especially live. Dressed in typical “band baajaa” costumes, they belt out a funky mix of alternative-rock, reggae and ska music with a healthy splash of good ol’ Bollywood music. So, you enjoy going out dancing? The Ganesh Talkies are your guys. The line up consists of Suyasha Sengupta, the front-woman, Nabarun Bose on keys, Roheet Mukherjee on the bass (one of my local heroes) and Arka Das on the drums. If you keep up with the underground scene in the country the last two names shouldn’t be new to you. I remember pushing my way to the front of the crowd at a Five Little Indians show to catch a glimpse of Roheet and Arka. In fact, my own band played its first show at Someplace Else. Thinking about Someplace Else makes me wish I was back in Calcutta now. Talking about Someplace Else, Suyasha, the band’s front-woman says “Someplace Else in Kolkata is not just a venue, but truly the 'mecca of music' for music lovers. It's the only place that supports all kinds of live music and every time we play there it's a new experience altogether. Infact it was at SPE where we launched our debut EP last month, the gig also featured eminent musicians Bodhisattwa Ghosh, Tanya Sen and Sandip Roy.”

The band has recently released their debut EP, 'Three-Tier, Non AC' which includes 4 tracks. The EP has been produced, mixed and mastered by Neel Adhikari, of the Five Little Indians fame. In fact, they even have a full length album on the way. But - and I have to emphasize this point - if you ever get the chance to catch them live, try not to miss it. But if you can’t keep your curiosity in check till then, here’s a little taste of the Ganesh Talkies :

The Sound Of Cinema

Ever since I’ve taken up music seriously, there’s been this one specific genre that’s attracted me more than the rest. No it’s not heavy metal or blues. It’s not funk or jazz. Not even electronica. No. Its film score soundtracks. Yes, that’s a separate genre altogether. Music has, surprisingly, always been more of a visual thing for me rather than auditory. So, the affinity towards film scores makes sense. Add to that my uncontrollable addiction of films and you’ll see it’s not surprising that my greatest music heroes are all film composers. Today however, I’m going to talk about only one of them – Clint Mansell.
I can bet bottom dollar that you’ve heard Mansell’s work even if you’ve never heard of the man. Darren Aronofsky’s go-to musician has done it all from Pi to Black Swan. From The Fountain to Definitely, Maybe. From Moon to The Wrestler. And in the unlikely event that you’ve managed to give all of those movies a miss, I’m sure you’ve heard the ridiculously popular theme from Requiem For A Dream, if not in the movie itself than in some TV commercial or show.  So, why him, you ask? Well, because, for me, he one of the few composers who actually hold ups the film and takes it forward with it. Usually, the primary function of a film score is to guide the audience how to feel. But Mansell does so much more. It actively adds to the plotline rather than simply maneuvering it. The Pop Will Eat Itself front-man has scored for every Aronofsky(one of the greatest directors of the last 2 decades) film. That itself is enough credibility to authenticate Mansell’s greatness. Whether it’s the 80s rock-influenced score for The Wrestler, with its distorted guitars and screaming feedbacks, the grand orchestral effort in Requiem For A Dream, the absolutely perfect electro-synth-pop in Moon or the soft, melody driven piano based score in Definitely, Maybe, Mansell’s done it all and how. But my favorite would have to be when he decided to team up with the post-rock band Mogwai(another favorite of mine) and the famed Kronos Quartet( two violins, viola and cello) to score for Aronofsky’s The Fountain (Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz). That soundtrack is half the reason why that is of my favorite films ever (the other, obviously, being that it is too good to not be considered of the best movies ever).
So, the next time you’re at the movies, pay a little more attention to what’s going on when your eyes are closed, and you may just surprise yourself.