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Indus Creed – Back with a bang after 17 years!

When I heard that the premier Indian rock band from my teenage years had reunited and were going to come out with a new album called ‘Evolve’, I could hardly contain myself. I was so happy that I messaged friends and family on facebook about the good news. I even went to their official website and listened to an interview of lead vocalist Uday Benegal in the hopes of getting clues on what they were cooking up on the new album. Then the release date came and of course, the CD was not available in SA… no surprises there. Wife to the rescue!! She was making a short trip to India anyway, so I begged her to get the album for me. Hence it has taken me a couple of months to physically get this album and listen to it, in case anybody is wondering why I am writing this review a little late.

With that out of the way, let’s talk about the music. When I listened to that interview back in April I heard Uday saying that they were listening to a lot of Porcupine Tree and that ‘In Absentia’ was one of his absolute favourite albums. Now that I have listened to ‘Evolve’ at least 3 or 4 times, I see where he is coming from. Opening track, ‘Fireflies’ sounds exactly like something Steven Wilson would come up with. From the haunting melody to the subdued echoed vocal style, it is obvious that these guys love Porcupine Tree to bits! And of course the fact that Tim Palmer (mixing engineer for the likes of Pearl Jam, U2 and Porcupine Tree) worked on this album only makes it even more obvious. That said, ‘Fireflies’ is a lovely song and I would like to think that they were going more for ‘inspired tribute’ and less for ‘blatant rip-off’. Track 2 truly delivers with the epic-sounding and anthemic ‘Dissolve’. There are several qualities to this song that I really enjoy – the offbeat percussion in the verses, the guitar solo after the second chorus and lyrics like “No more to run, I am one with my destination” and “the ocean is calling… I dissolve into the blue”. After that enjoyable 1-2 punch, track 3 ‘The Money’ goes into somewhat experimental territory for Indus Creed. It starts with a very unique-sounding electronic beat followed by interesting drum rolls and has Uday singing about somebody stealing money, shaming the whole community and what not. The lyrics here are fairly mediocre and quite repetitive. But it serves as an interesting diversion before returning to full form on track 4. ‘Take It Harder’ has a fantastic opening and build-up that explodes into an easy sing-along chorus. This medium paced rocker has great atmosphere and guitar.

Moving on to the second half of the album, ‘No Disgrace’ talks about the perennial mad race to be first at everything in life. This is a topic that is very relevant in India especially and I can think of at least 2 instances where it has been discussed – the song ‘Jame Raho’ from film ‘Taare Zameen Par’ and the central theme in the movie ‘3 Idiots’. Incidentally, both films were products of thought-provoking actor director Aamir Khan. Anyway, musically ‘No Disgrace’ is very progressive. There are influences from the likes of Rush and Dream Theater all over the place. Took a while to grow on me but now I totally enjoy this track. I particularly enjoy the lines “Did they take away your dreams? Douse them all in kerosene. From the crowd you watched them burn. Maybe someday this world will learn… that there’s no disgrace in losing the race”. Track 6 ‘Come Around’ is lovely, has a very unconventional structure to it but seems to drag on a bit at the end. Nevertheless, it’s a nice melodic ditty towards the end of the album. The next song is a slightly funny one titled ‘Bulletproof’. It changes the pace a bit with rapid fire vocals and a rocking rhythm. Not my favourite but not bad either. Finally, the closer on this seemingly short 8 track album is the aptly titled ‘Goodbye’. This song has just the right qualities for that nostalgia-tinged feel-good farewell.

Overall, I have to say that I’m quite impressed with this effort despite some obvious influences from other bands here. Also, I appreciate the fact that they mixed things up nicely and did not strictly follow the “verse-chorus-verse-chorus-guitar solo-final chorus” formula. And more than half the album is filled with songs that are longer than the average 5 minute length. There is equal parts experimentation along with their classic style of late 80’s/ early 90’s rock. A job well done! Here’s hoping for more music in the future.

Rating: 8 out of 10

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Smashing Pumpkins ‘Oceania’ – Brightly optimistic and reminiscent of early years

Billy Corgan is back! But I shouldn’t add “… with his band of misfits” cos that only applies to Axl Rose, right? Anyway, here’s a little bit of back-story. In 2007 he suddenly decided to bring the old band back together, but funnily enough he did not inform them. So, only drummer Jimmy Chamberlin came back. Nonetheless, the duo charged ahead with an album titled ‘Zeitgeist’ which tried very hard to bring back the rawkk of olden times. It didn’t quite succeed and aside from a few bright spots, the whole thing sounded like a formless mush of modern hard rock. The dream pop element that I loved so much was missing.

Coming back to 2012, Billy has recruited all new band members: guitarist Jeff Schroeder, bassist Nicole Fiorentino and drummer Mike Byrne and set out on an ambitious 44-song set called ‘Teargarden by Kaleidyscope’ of which this first one ‘Oceania’ is just a part. Phew!! .. But bombast and delusions of grandeur are nothing new to Billy. Their most popular (double) album ‘Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness’ could almost be compared to a sprawling art exhibition on a grand scale. Sure, there were fillers in there but I respected his vision for experimentation and art rock a la Pink Floyd. Those otherworldly qualities are thankfully back now.

‘Oceania’ is a bright and optimistic sounding tribute to their classic blend of heavy metal and dreamy psychedelia that they used to do so well! Right from the first track ‘Quasar’ it is evident that the old Pumpkins sound is back. The song is a delicious mix of crashing drums, distorted guitar and 60’s psychedelia. Mentions of Krishna and Om, plus an opening that sounds like a modern day version of ‘Cherub Rock’ only seal the suspicion that this is a celebration of everything ‘Gish’ and ‘Siamese Dream’. After that burst of energy, they deliver a second punch of delight with ‘Panopticon’ which does take a little bit more time to seep into you. Then come the strings of ‘The Celestials’, a lovely ballad which rocks almost as hard as it flows beautifully to end on a sustained solitary distorted note. As the album ambles along, there are many interesting sounds in tracks like ‘Violet Rays’, ‘My Love Is Winter’ and ‘One Diamond, One Heart’. When we get to ‘Pinwheels’ we are immediately hit with a gorgeously sunshiny opening that lasts for a good two whole minutes followed by soft acoustic guitar. Great stuff this!

Next comes the epic title track which is like the Pumpkins’ version of ‘A Saucerful Of Secrets’ I guess. Took a while to grow on me but I really dig the prog rock tendencies of this song now. Halfway through, Billy stops singing suddenly and the song fades into a dreamy soundscape of distant drums and crazy guitar solos. After that comes the wonderfully chilled out ‘Pale Horse’. One of my favourites on this album, it is easy to get into and completely relaxes the listener. This whole album is just so happy-sounding… I love it! And none of it is cheesy. That’s the best part! As we approach the last stretch of the album, there are some tight rocking songs like ‘The Chimera’, ‘Glissandra’ and ‘Inkless’ which are quite enjoyable musically. These take longer to get used to though, than anything on the first half. Finally, the closer ‘Wildflower’ is okay. Didn’t like it all that much at first but now I can appreciate the music here, although Billy’s singing drones on a bit – a quality in his singing style I was never that big a fan of.

Nevertheless, colour me surprised! After their several tumultuous years as a changing band, I did not really expect or hope for an album as sunny and glowing as this one. Looking at their discography as a whole, nothing will probably top moments like the last 2 minutes of ‘Hummer’, the skipping sighing beat of ‘1979’ or the entirety of ‘Mayonaise’ but I can confidently say that ‘Oceania’ is one of their best efforts that I have ever listened to.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

Apocalyptic Love – Not much here beyond the interesting album cover

When Slash’s debut solo album came out a couple of years back, it sounded like a lot of fun. And it was! There was not one vocalist but several well-known names including Ozzy Osbourne, Lemmy Kilmister, Chris Cornell, Iggy Pop etc. as well as more mainstream ones like Fergie and Adam Levine. How he got them together and played his guitar as the common thread uniting them all was pretty cool. Though some said that there was no coherence, I actually thought the variety of voices on the album made the whole thing interesting to listen to. And it had several solid songs too – memorable ones. This time around he has decided to stick with only one of those vocalists, Myles Kennedy of Alter Bridge and the result is not the same. I did enjoy Myles’ contribution on the last album quite a bit, especially the song ‘Back From Cali’. But somehow on ‘Apocalyptic Love’, he sounds kind of indistinguishable from other mediocre vocalists and more like a second rate Axl Rose. On fast-paced tracks like ‘One Last Thrill’, his high pitched yelling is almost unlistenable!

And it is not just the vocals… the tunes are not very memorable at all. There is a typical Guns n’ Roses-like rock groove going on in many songs but there are hardly any stand-out riffs. Save for the somewhat catchy opening title track, many of the songs just don’t go anywhere. There are many instances where the song starts off nicely and sounds promising until the chorus begins. And then it doesn’t deliver much, sort of falls flat. Also, there is nothing exciting or new about the song structures here. It is the standard verse-chorus-verse-chorus-guitar solo-final chorus formula. Sure, there are a few moments here and there that sound interesting and even some that, dare I say, attempt to relive former glories of the Illusion days but it all sounds like stereotypical hard rock.

The crux of the matter is that what made Guns n’ Roses great in their heyday was a combination of all band members coming together with their different styles and blending beautifully to deliver some kicking hard rock. You had Slash providing the effortless bluesy guitar solos. But you also had Axl writing those melodious epics like Estranged, Breakdown and November Rain. And then there was that solid rhythm section of Izzy Stradlin, Duff McKagan, Steven Adler and later Matt Sorum. Put together they made one hell of a band! Split apart, obviously the music suffers. Right now Slash is doing his thing well but he needs better support than what he has now. It is the same old story with many rock bands, take for example Pink Floyd. It was the combination of Roger Waters’ bitter cynicism and excellent lyrics along with David Gilmour’s precision guitar solos and dreamy vocals that made them so great. After Waters left they were not the same anymore.

So, sadly the bottom line is that ‘Apocalyptic Love’ is just okay for an average rock album in the year 2012. But if you, like me knows what the Gunners were capable of 20 years back, you would rather be reaching for those albums after a few listens to this one. The guitar god with the top hat may be having fun with his rock n’ f’in roll but there seems to be nothing more than a hard rock-by-numbers album here.

Rating: 2 / 5

Keane ‘Strangeland’- Delicious melodies though a tad predictable

My favourite British pop songsters are back with a new album and they sound happier than ever! ‘Strangeland’ as it is called is a weird title because there is nothing strange about these tunes. It actually sounds more like a return to the lush melodies of their fantastic debut ‘Hopes And Fears’. That is not to say that this is necessarily a step backwards. Here is why.

On first listen, the album sounds like a complete return to their roots. But after a few listens, it seems like most of the songs here are silent nods to bands and artists that they possibly admire. The most obvious one is ‘Silenced By The Night’ where I think pretty much every portion of it sounds like U2 circa 2004 viz. the tinkling and chiming ‘City Of Blinding Lights’. In fact I can totally picture in my head, Bono and the boys covering this one in concert. There is also ‘You Are Young’ which is a lovely, very U2-ey opener. Then there is the song ‘Black Rain’ which is definitely new territory for Keane where they sound more like Radiohead, to the point where Tom’s voice could be mistaken for Thom’s in some parts. But to me it doesn’t feel like a blatant rip-off, more like an inspired salute to the alternative rock veterans. Another one is ‘Neon River’ which reminds me of The Killers, in a good way. Call it coincidence that they too have in the past had a similarly titled ‘Neon Tiger’, not that the two songs are even remotely the same! The similarities lie mainly in the synth usage and the fact that I can picture Brandon Flowers covering this one. The last one reminding me of other artists is ‘The Starting Line’ which sounds a little bit like Oasis, particularly Noel Gallagher’s material. Nevertheless, it is yet another great track here.

There are also other tracks which sound as brilliant and less obviously inspired. For example: The nostalgia-drenched ‘Sovereign Light Cafe’ which is melodic as heck, fast-paced and absolutely gorgeous. It is surely one of my favourites on this album, a classic sing-along that only Keane do best; ‘Disconnected’ which has Tom conspicuously reaching for his low register and going high again in the extremely catchy and memorable chorus; the totally fun rockers, ‘On The Road’ and ‘Day Will Come’; ‘In Your Own Time’, a nice commentary on the sombre state of affairs in the world today (despite some cheesy lyrics) and finally a dreamy mellow closer called ‘Sea Frog’ which is somewhat reminiscent of the silky smooth closer of 2008’s ‘Perfect Symmetry’. The only song that I do not enjoy as much on here is ‘Watch How You Go’. Otherwise, I really like this album. It has a little bit of everything… bits of ‘Hopes And Fears’ and ‘Under The Iron Sea’ mixed in with the synthesizer sounds of ‘Perfect Symmetry’ along with a few new sounds as well, albeit inspired by other bands. No way is it groundbreaking stuff. It is actually Keane playing it safe in their comfort zone. I still recommend it if you are a lover of melodious, anthemic, feel-good music. Rating: 4 / 5

Work Commute Album of the Day: Noel Gallagher’s ‘High Flying Birds’

Ever since I got transferred from our head office to a plant site, my commute has increased from 7 minutes to exactly 30. This offers a great opportunity to listen to most if not all of an album or CD in the car. In the mornings I usually have talk radio and news on but it’s during the dreary afternoon commute that I crave for music. And radio just does not cut it. So, I have decided to start a running series about the work commute album of the day. Let’s see how long it lasts. 😉

With that intro out of the way, I’ll talk about Noel Gallagher’s ‘High Flying Birds’.

When Oasis split up I was pretty disappointed, not just because I was a big fan but especially since I had not seen them live. Anyway I was curious as to what the two quarrelling idiot brothers would come up with after breaking up the band. I heard about Liam’s Beady Eye (awful name by the way) but simply never gathered enough interest to actually check it out. The much more talented brother Noel was apparently busy with his own plans but somehow it slipped under my radar. I remember Beady Eye being in the news all the time. But I never once heard of High Flying Birds until recently in 2012 when I watched an interview of Noel on the Graham Norton Show. So somewhat belatedly I decided to check this album out.

I’ve listened to it about 2 or 3 times all the way through now. To be honest, my first impression was very lukewarm. This one certainly is a grower. Let me explain. The first things that stood out to me were unfortunately the déjà vu moments (bordering on blatant rip-offs) scattered here and there. For example: Track 2 ‘Dream On’ sounds too obviously like Oasis’ ‘Lyla’ until it really gets going. Track 4 ‘The Death Of You And Me’ has a part where it sounds like Noel simply cut and pasted from The Beatles’ ‘Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite’ from Sgt. Peppers. Of course, I’m not really surprised considering Oasis’ track record in this matter. And I say this as a fan. They’re quite clearly big fans of the Fab Four. But I digress. Another example but a less obvious one is the song ‘Aka… Broken Arrow’ which is quite reminiscent of ‘Part Of The Queue’ from 2005’s Don’t Believe The Truth. Anyway, my point here is that these moments on the album could very easily put off a first time listener who may never give the album a second chance. But for those that do give the album a few listens at least, I think they would probably find this to be a pretty good collection of songs. And the funny thing is, once you start enjoying the memorable songs on this album, those aforementioned “heard before” moments quickly slip into the background. The third or fourth time that I listened to ‘The Death Of You And Me’, I hardly noticed the Beatles’ thing. So I will say that overall I do recommend this album.

Stand-out songs here are opener ‘Everybody’s On The Run’, ‘If I Had A Gun’ which I heard live on TV and immediately liked it, ‘(I Wanna Live In A Dream In My) Record Machine’ and ‘Stop The Clocks’. The others are not bad but they take more time to grow on you. Overall rating: **** stars.

R.E.M. ‘Collapse Into Now’ – Familiar yet Fresh

R.E.M. Collapse Into Now (album cover)

The veteran rockers of R.E.M. are back with a new album and it sounds happy and full of life! This album is basically what 2008’s ‘Accelerate’ was trying to be. After ex-drummer Bill Berry’s departure in the mid 90’s, the band went into an extremely melancholic, almost lackadaisical mode with their next 3 albums. 1998’s ‘Up’ at least had excellent songwriting throughout despite the lack of energy but the next one, ‘Reveal’ sounded totally lost and direction-less. With ‘Accelerate’, they regained a lot of that lost energy but somehow it ended up sounding like they were trying too hard to rock again. Now with this new one, they have managed to arrange together the perfect mix of catchy rockers, slower atmospheric numbers and pretty mid-tempo ditties.

It all kicks off with a ringing rocker titled ‘Discoverer’ which is immediately reminiscent of something like ‘Finest Worksong’ off of ‘Document’. When I listened to the song-leak prior to album release, I was not that thrilled about it. But it has managed to grow on me over time. With track 2 ‘All The Best’ they come out all-guns-blazing and deliver a ridiculously catchy, fun song. The next one is a medium-paced, pretty little guitar track called ‘ÜBerlin’ which took me a few listens to really like. Musically, it sounds a bit like their song ‘Electrolite’ and lyrically it is Stipe at his most hopeful: “I will make it through the day and then the day becomes the night. I will make it through the night.” It also has a cool little musical bridge just before the last verse that I really love. Then we go on to a song called ‘Oh My Heart’ which despite its somewhat cliché lyrics, has a pleasant swinging rhythm to it. It answers the question asked by the song ‘Houston’ on the previous album, by stating “The storm didn’t kill me. The government changed.” Track 5 ‘It Happened Today’ is the one with Eddie Vedder on guest vocals. And for all the excitement it brought up in my mind just because I was going to hear Eddie’s awesome voice, I think the song kind of fell flat. The chorus is nice enough but there doesn’t seem to be much substance to the whole song and one can hardly even hear Eddie’s voice clearly except at the very end. ‘Every Day Is Yours To Win’, a mellow track with positive life affirming lyrics sounds a bit too much like their classic ‘Drive’ as it gets going. It ends up being a cheerful sing-along that is not remarkable but rather harmless in the middle of the album.

The second half kicks off with ‘Mine Smell Like Honey’ which has classic rocking R.E.M. written all over it. The song has a catchy chorus but is not my favourite here. The next one titled ‘Walk It Back’ sounds very different from anything they have written so far, a pleasant pop song to change the pace a little. Track 9 ‘Alligator Aviator Autopilot Antimatter’ is great fun to listen to but is basically made up of nonsensical lines like “I feel like an alligator climbing up the escalator” and “I’m the world’s strongest island”. It features guest vocals by Peaches whose voice seems to have an uncanny resemblance to that of Kate Pierson, their well-known guest vocalist from years past. Track 10 ‘That Someone Is You’ is a quick rocker which I quite enjoy listening to. The lyric “That someone has pulled me up and out of cartoon quicksand” is amusing because Stipe has used “cartoon brick wall” before on the album ‘Up’. Anyway, recycling aside most of these songs are catchy and memorable. The next track ‘Me, Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando And I’ is a pensive ballad that reminds me of songs off of ‘Green’ or even ‘Automatic For The People’. This is the kind of stuff that was missing on their previous album and gives this one a fuller feel. Final track ‘Blue’ features their other famous friend Patti Smith on guest vocals. As soon as the melancholic strumming guitar comes through the speakers, one is reminded instantly of ‘Country Feedback’. I mean, it is a pretty blatant lift from R.E.M.’s own material. Then as Stipe starts doing his talk-singing thing and Patti croons lazily over the tune, one cannot help but wonder if this is ‘E-bow The Letter’ Part 2. Just before the end, the tune stops abruptly and you hear the ringing guitar of first track ‘Discoverer’ again. They end the whole thing with a reprise of Discoverer which makes it nice to listen to this album in a repeat loop.

So in summary, except for a couple of average sounding numbers here and there, this album is for the most part amazingly fun to listen to. Stipe sounds joyous and full of life as he raps “This is my time and I am thrilled to be alive. Living. Blessed. I understand. Twentieth Century Collapse Into Now.” This is the most complete album they have made since ‘New Adventures…’ or ‘Up’ and it shows! They play to their strengths here by revisiting various sounds from their thirty year history and in the end it doesn’t really sound like a rehash. If this were their last album (which it could very well be, sadly), it would be an awesome high to go out on! All in all, a good album by a great band.

Rating: 4 / 5

Radiohead ‘The King Of Limbs’ – As odd as it gets!

The wonderfully weird Radiohead is back with a new album. It is called ‘The King Of Limbs’ and the songs contained therein are just as strange as that album title. But what do you expect? It’s Radiohead!! Here’s a band who had all the success they wanted with 1997’s brilliant Ok Computer and then promptly turned their back to it all with a really experimental departure, which completely divided (read killed) their fan base! Yet, they have had a steady fan following through the years since ‘Kid A’. They’re really the biggest cult band in the world, aren’t they? … a title that once upon a time belonged to U2, until they actually became the biggest band in the world. But I digress. Let’s return to the subject at hand: The King of Limbs.

At first listen, one would probably wonder what the heck the band was smoking during the recording sessions. This album is ridiculously un-catchy even for Radiohead’s standards! Anybody that loses patience or interest after a single spin of this short album of only 8 songs, probably never understood how Radiohead albums work! You are meant to feel underwhelmed after the first run-through. Only after the third or fourth listen does this album reveal all its interesting sounds and layers. It’s a grower.

Okay, it’s time to talk about the actual songs. The album opens with ‘Bloom’, a fast-paced electronic number filled with a purposefully ugly repetitive beat, jazzy tones, prominent bass and Thom’s otherworldly voice stretching out over the soundscape going “Open your mouths wiiiiide, the universe will sigh…” The whole thing actually sounds like an outtake from his solo album The Eraser, which came out around 2006 or so. Actually, at least half of this album sounds like Eraser Pt. 2 because of the way the percussion is arranged in the mix. Track 2, ‘Morning Mr. Magpie’ with its beatlesque title sounds (unsurprisingly) absolutely nothing like the Beatles! In fact, it’s almost like a twin track to the opener, Bloom. Both songs have urgent percussion and similar vocal sections. The next one is called ‘Little By Little’ and finally there is some semblance of a melody! (although, it was discernible only by the second or third listen) Lots of falsetto here and a psychedelic sounding tune which gets more melodic as the track bounces along at a medium pace. Track 4, ‘Feral’ is a somewhat uninteresting instrumental with distorted vocal bits that don’t qualify as lyrics. The bass work here is quite awesome though, something that can be said for many of the songs! 50% of the album is already over by now but the good thing is that, the second half gets much better!

Track 5, ‘Lotus Flower’ is the one that is already out on YouTube and all over the net. There’s more of Thom’s falsetto here along with a heavy bassy groove and a somewhat catchy beat, which makes this song the first one that even has any hope of getting played on the radio. The accompanying video is hilarious yet difficult to watch at the same time as it shows a scrawny, shaggy looking Thom Yorke showing off some very odd dance moves. The next one is titled ‘Codex’ and as soon as it starts playing, one is reminded of the gorgeous Pyramid Song from the album Amnesiac. The piano chord arrangement on both songs are similar but Codex sounds a lot more dreamy and bright compared to Pyramid Song which despite its beauty sounds depressing. Track 7, ‘Give Up The Ghost’ is a mellow sing-along which is not exceptional but not terrible either. It continues the melodic theme of the second half, as opposed to the very rhythmic first half. The final track is a little gem that shines apart from most of the others. It’s called ‘Separator’ and has a very addictive beat along with light, airy keyboard sounds. It’s a song you can chill to, as the album comes to a close. Many fans on the net have speculated that the lyric “If you think this is over then you’re wrong” as well as the song title itself suggest that there is more material coming soon, but only time will tell.

So there you have it! Overall, I would say that The King of Limbs is a mixed bag consisting of some gorgeous fare like Codex and Separator as well as some difficult experiments such as Feral and the first couple of songs. Though I’m getting used to liking most of the songs now after my fourth listen or so, I cannot help wondering how much better and mind-blowing it could’ve been, considering it’s Radiohead we are talking about, a band that never ceases to amaze!

Rating: 3.5 / 5