About Sanjoy Narayan

Sanjoy Narayan has a day job as Hindustan Times’ Editor-in-Chief but he’s incurably addicted to discovering new music via the Internet. His tastes run towards independent  and lesser known musicians and he likes to check out almost every genre that is served up by today’s mushrooming breed of rock and pop ensembles.

He’s been collecting music ever since his teens—beginning with vinyls and then cassette tapes. Now, he samples, tastes and downloads music off the Internet, picking up podcasts, rare bands and unsigned musicians with big potential. With the bits and bytes burgeoniong, Sanjoy is slowly running out of place to store his growing hoard of disk drives but, thankfully, not his obsessive enthusiasm to hear new music.

For many music fans, this year – and we’re not even two months into it – began sadly, with the demise of talented and influential musicians such as David Bowie, Glenn Frey (The Eagles), Paul Kantner (Jefferson Airplane; Jefferson Starship), Edgar Froese (Tangerine Dream) and, in early February, Maurice White, the founder of Earth, Wind & Fire, a much-loved, highly-praised American band.

In his elements: Maurice White (centre) founded the much-loved American band Earth, Wind & Fire which took black pop to a different level by fusing funk, soul, R&B, blues and rock. (Photo: Getty Images)

In his elements: Maurice White (centre) founded the much-loved American band Earth, Wind & Fire which took black pop to a different level by fusing funk, soul, R&B, blues and rock. (Photo: Getty Images)

I hadn’t heard Earth, Wind & Fire in a long time and White’s death, albeit a sad occasion, became a cue for me to dig out their Greatest Hits album, the one with 17 songs including Got to Get You Into My Life, Can’t Hide Love, Shining Star, Let’s Groove, Saturday Nite, and many more – all hits from 1974-81, the period that is considered to be the band’s golden era.

Many critics who’ve acclaimed Earth, Wind & Fire (EWF) say the band had the ability to cross generic boundaries; that they took black pop to a different level by fusing funk, soul, R&B, blues and rock but I think that at the core of Earth, Wind & Fire’s sound is funk and groove – the rhythm that the interplay of drums, keyboards and bass brings to their music.

EWF’s lead singer Philip Bailey was versatile – he had a four-octave range and could sing everything from funk to blues to gospel to rock and roll. Added to that were White’s mellower vocals; the meticulous arrangements involving horns, guitars, besides the funky keyboards, drums and bass; and a generally upbeat spirit, all of it making for a spirited musical experience.

I haven’t heard a single EWF song that isn’t uplifting: the Greatest Hits album closes with Getaway, a song about escaping boredom and seeking joy that may well epitomise the band’s musical spirit. White suffered from Parkinson’s disease and had to retire from the band in 1994 but continued to remain active in controlling EWF.

Also watch: Jefferson Airplane – Volunteers (Live at Woodstock Music & Art Fair, 1969)

After an hour or two of EWF, as homage to Paul Kantner I pulled out my Jefferson Airplane collection and chose Surrealistic Pillow, their second album from 1967. Pioneers of the San Francisco sound during the Summer of Love years, their music was redolent of psychedelia, of the ‘turn on, tune in, drop out’ era of hippiedom.

Sweet goodbyes: Paul Kantner (Jefferson Airplane), Glenn Frey (The Eagles). (Photo: Getty Images)

Sweet goodbyes: Paul Kantner (Jefferson Airplane), Glenn Frey (The Eagles). (Photo: Getty Images)

On Surrealistic Pillow, Airplane do some of their most memorable songs. There’s Somebody to Love, which was written by vocalist Grace Slick’s then brother-in-law, Darby; there’s Today; there’s the Alice in Wonderland inspired White Rabbit; and there’s Plastic Fantastic Lover.

After the Airplane broke up, Kantner, Slick and some of the others formed Jefferson Starship. I have their 1975 album, Red Octopus. So I played that too. Starship had a more commercial sound than its mothership, Jefferson Airplane. But a nice trip down memory lane it was.

Edgar Froese (Tangerine Dream) and David Bowie (right). (Photo: Getty Images)

Edgar Froese (Tangerine Dream) and David Bowie (right). (Photo: Getty Images)

And then, since I’d embarked on that journey, I pulled out Froese’s German electronic band, Tangerine Dream’s Le Parc, which is an album from 1985 and has nine tracks, each of which is inspired by a famous park around the world. So you get tracks such as Central Park (New York), Bois de Boulogne (Paris), Zen Garden (Ryoanji Temple, Tokyo), Hyde Park (London) and so on. It’s not their best-known album but I like the theme.

I then heard one of their earlier albums, Stratosfear (1974), which marks the band’s move to a more melodious sound, with the Moog synthesizers still ruling but less experimental and not so off the wall. Tangerine Dream’s most influential years were during the 1970s and some of their music from that era may seem prescient when you listen to some of today’s modern electronic dance music.

As a tribute to Glenn Frey, I eschewed all The Eagles albums (including that one particular Eagles song for which Frey wrote the lyrics and that you must have heard in elevators, restaurants and rest-rooms) and went for 1993’s Glenn Frey Live, which has concert versions of several songs, including Desperado, a Lyin’ Eyes/Take it Easy medley, and New Kid in Town.

Also watch: David Bowie – Live at BBC Radio Theatre

That left me to decide which David Bowie album to play. It was a tough decision. I have tons of Bowie from over the years – studio albums, live ones, compilations and collaborations. I finally settled on a BBC sampler of six songs and one short interview from the 1969-72 period and which has on the playlist Hang Onto Yourself, Ziggy Stardust, Andy Warhol and Waiting for the Man. In the interview, David Bowie, then 22 (it is 1969), talks about Space Oddity, which had just released. He’s soft-spoken, self-deprecating and full of humility. So refreshing.

Download Central appears every fortnight
Download PDF

Follow @sanjoynarayan on Twitter

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)
Loading ... Loading ...

The first time I heard Sublime, the band had already broken up and its talented lead singer, driving force and the man who can be credited for the band, its sound, and its essence, Brad Nowell, was already dead. And, as it happened, the first song by Sublime that I heard and that made me sit up and take notice of the band was not even (well, not fully as we shall see in just a bit) written by the band. It was Scarlet Begonias, originally written in 1974 by Robert Hunter (words) and Jerry Garcia (music) for the Grateful Dead.

Of delightful metamorphoses: Sublime may have had a short run when lead singer Brad Nowell (above) died of a drug overdose at the age of 28, but their albums (below), compilations and a box set still find loyal takers. (Photo: Getty Images)

Of delightful metamorphoses: Sublime may have had a short run when lead singer Brad Nowell (above) died of a drug overdose at the age of 28, but their albums (below), compilations and a box set still find loyal takers. (Photo: Getty Images)

As a long-time Deadhead, I instantly took note, especially because Nowell had added a verse or two to give the song a nice and edgy twist. In the Sublime version of the song – I’d highly recommend Deadheads who haven’t to listen to it – Nowell references the “Summer of Love”, a “microbus”, a hippy lifestyle that involves a bit of dealing in mushroom, ecstasy, nitrous oxide and sundry other, um, psychotropic substances, as well as a not-so-happy brush with the law. As a bonus, the band also sampled James Brown’s Funky Drummer on the song. That was enough to hook me.

Also watch: Sublime – Badfish (Live At The Palace/1995)

Sublime’s music is categorised by some writers as a genre they call ska punk – ska originally being a form of Jamaican dance music that pre-dates reggae. But the influences that shaped Nowell (guitar and vocals), Eric Wilson (bass) and Bud Gaugh (drums) go beyond those genres. You can add to that list of their influencers garage rock, rap, blues and psychedelia, especially psychedelia. Sublime’s songs have a very robust bass line (a characteristic of ska music); blistering guitar solos that could be blues-rock influenced; and the danceability of reggae. It’s incredible how things can evolve within a Sublime song – metamorphosing from garage punk to reggae to ska and rock.

Sublime launched their first album in 1992 and could manage to record just three studio albums in their career.

Sublime launched their first album in 1992 and could manage to record just three studio albums in their career.

Sadly, Sublime had a short run. They launched their first album in 1992 and could manage to record just three studio albums in their career, the first one clandestinely by sneaking into a studio at a California university at night. Their third album, titled Sublime, came out just after Brad Nowell’s death in 1996.

Nowell died from what is believed to be a heroin overdose in a motel in the band’s home state of California. He was just 28. Sublime’s songs aren’t without controversy either. On their debut album, 1992’s 40 Oz. to Freedom, Sublime have a humorous song called Date Rape that is about a date-rapist and his victim and ends with jail for the perpetrator who gets sodomised in jail.

Also watch: Sublime – Date Rape

Many consider that song homophobic – particularly, the last verse where Nowell sings: “Well, I can’t take pity on men of his kind, /even though he now takes it in the behind.” There’s a video of the song in which male porn star Ron Jeremy acts as both the judge who sends the perp to jail as well as the co-prisoner who later… well, never mind.

Besides the three studio albums and some live cuts, Sublime in post-Nowell years have released several compilations and a box set. And loyal fans abound even now. And although the remaining members of the band have regrouped and renamed themselves Sublime with Rome (after Rome Ramirez, guitarist and singer, joined them), their fare hasn’t met with the kind of following Sublime still has.

If you like your reggae shaken up with ska, punk, funk and groove, it’s the band for you. And if you’re a Deadhead, I’ve already told you the song you could listen to before you dive into the rest of their catalogue.

TAILPIECE: Confused by the barrage of music blogs, reviews, year-end lists and so on? Want to try something different? Writer/artist Chris Prunckle does a review and music blog all in six-panel comic book form.

Photo: Chris Prunckle

Photo: Chris Prunckle

Wannabe is the name of his music blog, which sometimes even has an interview with a musician. Head over to Wannabe’s website. And don’t forget to check out his recent post on 2015’s best 11 albums. His take, of course. All in comic panel form.

Download Central appears every fortnight
Download PDF

Follow @sanjoynarayan on Twitter

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)
Loading ... Loading ...

Beginning with their first studio effort in 2007, Red Album, every LP by Baroness, the heavy metal band from Savannah in the US state of Georgia, is titled with the name of a colour. Their second album was called Blue Record; then came 2012’s Yellow & Green (it was a double album); and then, last month they released their latest, Purple. The colour thing for their album titles seems apt.

Baroness (left, with frontman and guitarist John Baizley in the centre) performs in Chicago in 2012. (Photo: Corbis)

Baroness (left, with frontman and guitarist John Baizley in the centre) performs in Chicago in 2012. (Photo: Corbis)

Baroness, as I said, are a heavy metal band – some music critics affix prefixes such as ‘stoner’, ‘alternative’ or ‘sludge’ to their genre but the fact is that they are a heavy metal band. And heavy metal bands are? Well, they are loud, deep sounding, aggressive, distortion-loving purveyors of music that is not necessarily associated with colour other than different shades of black. Dark and brooding is how the music played by most heavy metal bands can seem. But Baroness are different. Their music, even when it has all the required attributes of metal – loudness; heavy beats; and fierceness – is also vibrant and colourful.

Also watch: Baroness live at Saint Vitus Bar

On Yellow & Green, there are songs, such as Twinkler, which begins with a melodic acoustic guitar (albeit against the background of a mildly ominous sounding giant fly’s buzz); there are lyrics, such as those on March to the Sea, that can seem uncommon for a heavy metal band: There was a whisper/Once there were heralds and parades/ You sang your secrets through the tolling of the tide/ The fugitive rooms, the amateur tombs/ The silence and the cries/ The quickening beat/ Your march to the sea/ Never to return; and on Purple, their latest, there are guitar solos and drum lines, such as the one on The Iron Bell, which can make them sound like a southern jam band (albeit one that is probably amped up on speed and steroids).

Four years ago the future of Baroness may have seemed uncertain. The band, while touring the UK, met with an accident when its tour coach fell 30 feet, injuring most members of the band, two of them, the drummer and the bassist, very badly. Those two ultimately had to quit the band and to many it seemed that Baroness would never play again.

Baizley's gorgeous Art Nouveau-inspired album covers of Purple (above, left) and Red Album.

Baizley's gorgeous Art Nouveau-inspired album covers of Purple (above, left) and Red Album.

But the remaining members, including frontman and guitarist John Baizley, bounced back after spending months in recovery. And then came Purple. As is customary for the band, Baizley not only wrote the songs but also did the cover artwork for Purple, which, as it has always been for the band’s other albums, is gorgeous. Baizley’s artwork is influenced by the Art Nouveau style; it is intricate and decorative with a mythological theme (an aside: if you want to explore Baizley’s art, go to www.aperfectmonster.com).

Back to the music. In many ways, Purple, the first album by Baroness after the band’s accident, carries a sense of the trauma that the band members underwent. It is dark; it is heavy; and, while Baizley’s songs don’t directly refer to the incident, the mood captures it.

Yellow & Green was for me the most accessible heavy metal album I have heard. Its infectious melodic hooks, bright guitar solos and harmonised singing completely upturned my pre-conceived notions of a heavy metal band – much like another band, the black metal group Deafheaven had.

In contrast, Baroness’s first two albums were heavier, fitting the definition of the heavy metal genre better. Now, Purple takes another step in the evolution of the band: on this new album, the deep and loud sound is layered with melodies, guitar riffs and choruses – a perfect blend of the heavy and the light.

TAILPIECE:
The late David Bowie’s last album is the only one of his albums that doesn’t have an image of him on the cover; instead it has a black star and that gives it its name, Blackstar. Bowie who died at 69 on January 10 after an 18-month-long battle with cancer was an itinerant experimenter – both with his music as well as his looks.

The legend from Brixton: David Bowie's last album, Blackstar, had the experimental singer fronting a jazz band, a perfect epitaph for a storied life. (Photo: Getty Images)
The legend from Brixton: David Bowie’s last album, Blackstar, had the experimental singer fronting a jazz band, a perfect epitaph for a storied life. (Photo: Getty Images)

Those who’ve tracked Bowie’s brilliant career and his rapidly changing musical style – from art rock, glam rock, soul, funk, and electronic – will find that Bowie’s last album is a jazz album with the singer fronting a jazz band. A perfect epitaph for a storied life.

Download Central appears every fortnight
Download PDF

Follow @sanjoynarayan on Twitter.

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)
Loading ... Loading ...

Few musicians do confessional songs as well as John Grant does. In his second album, Pale Green Ghosts, released in 2013, he is sad and bitterly angry, particularly because of a bad break-up with a partner and his songs, therefore, are replete with sharp barbs and cutting remarks about his ex done with finesse and great style.

Colorado musician John Grant’s voice is so warm, he makes even the meanest things he sings sound enjoyable. (Photo: Art Magg)

Colorado musician John Grant’s voice is so warm, he makes even the meanest things he sings sound enjoyable. (Photo: Art Magg)

Listen to GMF on the album, which, incidentally, features Sinéad O’Connor too, and you’ll know what I mean. It’s not only on his studio albums that Grant mixes his trademark cocktail of irony, humour, anger and bitterness so perfectly. In May last year, I saw Grant open for The Pixies in New York and he was equally adept at it live. That night he did songs from his first two studio albums – Queen of Denmark and Pale Green Ghosts – the first less bitter than the second, and engaged well with the audience (which comprised mainly hardcore Pixies fans, many of whom may not have heard him before) with his banter. Now, Grant’s third album, Grey Tickles, Black Pressure, is out and it’s yet another phase in the career of the Colorado-born musician who has made Iceland his home.

Also watch: John Grant – Global Warming

First, the album’s title: apparently, it’s a transliteration of Icelandic for midlife travails and Turkish for a bad dream. Intro (as is Outro) is a reading from the Bible’s First Epistle to the Corinthians. But those apart, it is what you expect a John Grant album to be. Only, he may have surpassed himself with this third studio album of his. Its songs seethe, bristle, mock and rue. There are references to broken love; to lust; and to Grant’s ongoing struggle with the fact that he is HIV positive. On You & Him, he’s at his vitriolic best when he addresses an ex-lover: You and Hitler ought to get together/ You oughta learn to knit and wear matching sweaters, and elsewhere on the same song: You’re so sweet I really love how you hate/ You seem like someone they should chemically castrate.

Grant is also self-critical to the point of being self-loathing on some of this album’s tracks. In the title track, Grey Tickles, Black Pressure, he refers to (presumably, his) haemorrhoids, his memory lapses in middle-age, and his HIV. Sample: I can’t believe I missed/ New York during the 70’s/ I could have gotten a headstart/ In the world of disease/ I’m sure I would have contracted/ Every solitary thing.

Name and shame: The title of John Grant’s new album – Grey Tickles, Black Pressure – is apparently a transliteration of Icelandic for midlife travails and Turkish for a bad dream.

Name and shame: The title of John Grant’s new album – Grey Tickles, Black Pressure – is apparently a transliteration of Icelandic for midlife travails and Turkish for a bad dream.

But there’s always more than the deep and emotion-laden lyrics that we’ve come to expect in Grant’s songs – it is the evolution of his music. If Pale Green Ghosts had electronic pop via the synthesiser, which evidently Grant loves, the new album has synth runs that are multi-textured; bass lines that pulsate funkily; and a slickness that makes everything gleam.

Yet, I like Grant because of his words and because his voice, deep and full of warmth, makes even the meanest things he sings so enjoyable to listen to – such as (on Voodoo Doll): I made a voodoo doll of you/ And I gave it some chicken soup/ Did you feel any warmth down deep inside?/ Did you feel how your blues went away and died?

Tailpiece: I watched He Never Died, a new film by Jason Krawczyk, last week starring the 54-but-still-studly Henry Rollins, frontman of the erstwhile hardcore punk band, Black Flag. In the film, which is half comedy half horror, Rollins plays Jack, an immortal, reluctant cannibal who quickly turns violent. There’s gore; there’s blood; there’s even a speck or two of love. It’s an odd kind of film that has found some critical acclaim, particularly among non-mainstream audiences.

Us and them: I dug out 2009’s The Dark Side of the Moon – the cover version by The Flaming Lips, with Henry Rollins.

Us and them: I dug out 2009’s The Dark Side of the Moon – the cover version by The Flaming Lips, with Henry Rollins.

But I digress. Having watched Rollins, I longed to listen to some of his music. But instead of Black Flag, I found myself digging out 2009’s The Dark Side of the Moon. Not the Pink Floyd original but the cover version by The Flaming Lips who were accompanied by Rollins. There’s a version of Brain Damage with Rollins on vocals that is not to be missed. The album is titled The Flaming Lips and Stardeath and White Dwarfs with Henry Rollins and Peaches Doing The Dark Side of the Moon. It’s a cover of Floyd’s famous 1973 album done in its entirety. And done very well too. Worth checking out.

Download Central appears every fortnight
Download pdf

Follow @sanjoynarayan on Twitter

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (2 votes, average: 3.5 out of 5)
Loading ... Loading ...

I think it was around the middle of this year or thereabouts that a new anthology of Miles Davis’ tunes put together in a four-CD set was released. The common thread for most of those 40 tunes, which together run for nearly five hours, is that they are from live performances between 1955 and 1975 at the Newport Jazz Festival where Miles Davis had played gigs, beginning in the early years as a sideman, and then in later ones as band-leader.

Miles runs the voodoo down: Miles Davis performing at Jazz Scene, a BBC TV show in 1969. The jazz trumpeter’s innovation and influence has been singular. (Photo: Getty Images)

Miles runs the voodoo down: Miles Davis performing at Jazz Scene, a BBC TV show in 1969. The jazz trumpeter’s innovation and influence has been singular. (Photo: Getty Images)

The set showcases the works of the jazz trumpeter whose innovation, experimentation and influence has been singular. For years, since it was first held in 1954, the Newport Jazz Festival has been like the Holy Grail for jazz musicians and a venue which often marks a launching pad for the careers of the young and talented. Something of that sort may have happened to Miles Davis who was not yet 30 when he played at Newport in 1955.

On Disc One, the first three tracks were recorded at the festival that year and Davis was in the band but it was led by the legendary jazz pianist, Thelonious Monk. Davis was a sideman. But a sideman whose solos on the three tracks (Monk’s Hackensack and ’Round Midnight, and Charlie Parker’s Now’s the Time) wowed the audience and the critics and is said to have got him his first major recording deal with Columbia.

Also watch: Bye Bye BlackBird – Miles Davis & John Coltrane Live at Newport ‘58

The next set of six tunes on Disc One was recorded at the festival in 1958. By then, Davis was the leader of a sextet whose other five members were Julian “Cannonball” Adderley (alto sax), John Coltrane (tenor sax), Bill Evans (piano), Paul Chambers (bass) and Jimmy Cobb (drums), names familiar to every jazz aficionado. The sextet did Parker’s Ah-Leu-Cha, Monk’s Straight, No Chaser, and Dizzy Gillespie and John Lewis’ Two Bass Hit: bebop and cool jazz that is guaranteed to perk you up each time you listen to it.

By the time you proceed to Disc Two, it is 1966-1967, and Davis has a quintet now with Wayne Shorter on tenor sax, Herbie Hancock on piano, Ron Carter on bass, and Tony Williams on drums, all legends in their own right.

It’s the last acoustic phase for Davis and the music of this era of his career is like a sneak preview of what is to come – the improvisations are less structured; the tempo is faster; and the contrast with his earlier era sound is rather dramatic.

For a demo, you could listen to the two versions of Monk’s ’Round Midnight – the one on Disc One and the one on Disc Two. Then you hit Discs Three and Four and before you know it you’re in Davis’s electric territory. There’s Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett playing electric piano; Michael Henderson is on the electric bass; and musicians such as Reggie Lucas and Pete Cosey are on electric guitars.

It’s the 1970s and Davis has been releasing revolutionary albums such as Bitches’ Brew; Jack Johnson; and On the Corner. The music is path-breaking; its mood psychedelic; and history is being made. On the 13-minute-long Directions, the opener on Disc Four, Davis is playing the electric trumpet, Jarrett is on electric piano and Henderson is slapping the electric bass. Things couldn’t get any better.

All blues: Miles Davis at Newport 1955-1975: The Bootleg Series Vol. 4 is a journey that takes you on a trip that tracks the restless evolution of one of jazz’s biggest influencers.

All blues: Miles Davis at Newport 1955-1975: The Bootleg Series Vol. 4 is a journey that takes you on a trip that tracks the restless evolution of one of jazz’s biggest influencers.

The Newport box-set, titled Miles Davis at Newport 1955-1975: The Bootleg Series Vol. 4, is a journey that takes you on a trip that tracks the restless evolution of a highly talented trumpeter and one of jazz’s biggest influencers. And, because it came out as an anthology in 2015, it has turned out to be one of my favourite albums of the year.

Peppy pop: Canadian artist Grimes’ new album Art Angels is on frequent duty on my playlist. (Photo: Getty Images)

Peppy pop: Canadian artist Grimes’ new album Art Angels is on frequent duty on my playlist. (Photo: Getty Images)

But just as a counterpoint to so many hours of jazz, I’ve got another album on frequent duty on my playlist. It’s Grimes’ Art Angels. Grimes is the stage name of Claire Elise Boucher, a Canadian singer, composer and producer, who is all of 27 years old. But her music is enigmatic and unclassifiable: it straddles uptempo pop; R&B and country; but also synthesiser-driven ambient sounds and experimental art pop.

Also watch: Grimes – Kill V. Maim – live in Chicago 2015

On Art Angels, which is her fourth studio album, the opener, Laughing and Not Being Normal is like a super-short operatic song; that is followed by California, a earworm-inducing peppy popsong; on the very next one, Scream, she’s accompanied by a Taiwanese rapper and screams, shrieks and yelps to create a song that’s strangely pleasing; and on REALiTi, she injects her song with a dose of electronic dance music that makes it so infectious that you want it to last longer than the five minutes it does.

Art Angels is Canadian artist Grimes' fourth studio album.

Art Angels is Canadian artist Grimes' fourth studio album.

Five, incidentally, is the longest in minutes that a Grimes track goes on for. Now compare that with the longest track in Davis’s Newport box set: Funky Tonk (Disc Four) clocks in at 25 minutes and 44 seconds.

Follow @sanjoynarayan on Twitter

Download Central appears every fortnight
Download PDF

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (1 votes, average: 5 out of 5)
Loading ... Loading ...