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.

Benjamin Booker, the sensational new singer whose self-titled debut album of 12 songs was released last month, has such a whiskey-marinated and vintage-sounding voice that you’d never for a moment guess that he’s barely in his mid-twenties.

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Metal is not my usual go-to musical genre. I find most head-banging musical styles repetitive, unnecessarily loud and even headache inducing. Yet, that door is not firmly shut to me.

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If you think it is possible for a rock outfit to at once straddle a noise-filled, experimental, post-punk sound as well as a hook-laden, melodic, pop one, then Spoon’s your band. Even if you’re not seeking out such genre-hopping attributes in your listening fare, Spoon, really, should be your band.

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Nine years is like a century in the Internet era but that is how long ago Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, the American indie band, which is mainly based in Brooklyn, New York, created a ripple when it burst upon the music scene without the help of a record label, an agent or any other facilitator.

CYHSY, as they’re known in short form, released their self-titled first album as a completely DIY project, aided only by a virtual buzz by fans, bloggers and websites. That buzz got deafeningly loud in indie music fans’ circles; the band’s first album became a hit; and critics sat up and took notice.

WATCH: Clap Your Hands And Say Yeah

That was in 2005. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, the album, was sonically what you’d classify as art-rock – experimental, form-shifting, genre-hopping and, best of all, an album that you knew the band probably had as much fun putting together as you had when you heard it. Frontman Alec Ounsworth and his bandmates made art-rock, which can be notoriously self-indulgent and abstruse, instantly accessible, danceable and hummable too. It helped that Ounsworth had a medium-pitched voice that warbled with nervous excitement but exuded a pop-like happiness even when he sang about his deepest thoughts.

That first album with memorable songs such as Let the Cool Goddess Rust Away, The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth and Details of the War, was hailed as one of the finest in the music world and the band instantly got touted as one of the hottest ensembles to look out for. In the next few years CYHSY released two more albums – Some Loud Thunder (2007) and Hysterical (2011) – but although they were well received, they never really created the sensation that their debut DIY album had done.

In between those releases, Ounsworth did some solo work – his 2009 album Mo Beauty is like a CYHSY album with a couple of standout tracks – the low-key Holy, Holy, Holy Moses (Song For New Orleans) and the percussive South Philadelphia (Drug Days) are ones I like. Then, I gathered that four of the six-member band had quit in the past couple of years, reducing CYHSY to a duo with only Ounsworth and the drummer Sean Greenhalgh.

WATCH: Song For Miguel

Then, just as people were writing their obit, the band resurfaced and this year, in June, CYHSY as a duo dropped their fourth studio album, Only Run. Ounsworth and his remaining band-member do multiple duties on the album, which unlike CYHSY’s earlier ones, has a lot more keyboard use, synth lines and, in general, more polish than those earlier ones.

To some, that may be a disappointment. Or not. Only Run has interesting collaborators – one track has The National’s Matt Berninger doing a stunning cameo reminiscent of his band’s early albums such as Boxer and Alligator; on another, we discover the Canadian DJ and turntablist, Kid Koala’s contribution.

When I first heard CYHSY, their sound seemed very familiar yet new. Here’s why: on their early albums you discovered the influence of a rash of earlier bands on CYHSY – ranging from older ones such as Joy Divison, The Clash and Talking Heads, to relatively newer indie bands. Yet, Ounsworth and his band managed never to sound like a derivative of those. They had their own sound, characterised mainly by Ounsworth’s singular vocal style. On Only Run, the band sounds more evolved and sophisticated, though, interestingly, it is self-produced like their first album (the second and third had outside producers) but the CYHSY’s trademark – that of springing sonic surprises – remains intact.

If you’ve ever travelled on the New York subway then Moon Hooch’s rock-infused jazz music may seem familiar because it sounds as if they’re playing in an underground tunnel – in fact, the band says it plays ‘cave music’. Moon Hooch began as buskers in the NYC subway system and in front of the city’s famous Metropolitan Museum of Art before being talent-spotted and then landing gigs opening for bigger bands. A record deal followed and their self-titled first album, Moon Hooch, which has 14 upbeat tracks, showcases their trademark sound: jazz with rock and dance music influences, all of it delivered by way of two saxophonists and a drummer. It’s a lively affair Moon Hooch’s music, instantly accessible and guaranteed to raise your spirits – jazz-rock-soul fused to make an exuberant cocktail. For a taste, head over to their Bandcamp page (moonhooch.bandcamp.com).

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It hasn’t yet been a year since Morrissey’s (or, if you would like his full name, Stephen Patrick Morrissey’s) tome, Autobiography, was published by Penguin as a ‘classic’ imprint – that itself created a flutter in the more uptight echelons of the book world (you know, critics and publishers and the legions of related know-it-alls) – but it’s been five years since he released his last solo album, Years of Refusal. So, when I heard about his tenth solo album, World Peace Is None of Your Business, I couldn’t wait to grab a listen. The album was released on July 15, but days before that, NPR came to the rescue, streaming it in full for a first listen.

Morrissey’s debut in Britain’s post-punk era was as part of the short-lived Manchester band, The Smiths. And although that band lasted from 1982 to 1987, it quickly spawned an ever-growing cult of followers. As the band’s lead singer and lyricist, his songs and views often flirted with controversy and he proudly wore his politics on his chest. His stance on issues such as the British monarchy, immigration, vegetarianism, Thatcher and Bush and Hillary Clinton has always managed to polarise people. Those who love him are devout loyalists; those who don’t, deride him for his self-righteousness and acute intellectual snobbery.

WATCH: Everyday Is Like Sunday

It was after The Smiths broke up (there was controversy there as well: a falling out with guitarist Johnny Marr and an acrimonious legal wrangling with drummer Mike Joyce), that Morrissey, now 55, actually came into his own – with a splendid solo career that is still in full flow. Besides enjoying Morrissey’s music – his vocal style (a baritone that transforms effortlessly into higher pitches, falsetto even) and his lyrics (always provocative, often ironic) – there’s a certain quirky something about listening to music by a man who’s as old as you, almost to the date! My younger Morrissey-loving friends literally worship him for his rebellious views and his ability to shock with finesse. I like those things about him but there’s also a certain P2P connect that I have  that, courtesy an accident of birth, those chaps aren’t likely to get.

WATCH: There Is Light That Never Goes Out

Morrissey’s new album is a set of 12 songs beginning with the title track, World Peace Is None Of Your Business, a strongly political number that derides people who vote because they do so for a system and political processes that don’t work for them or ones that they cannot change. Morrissey name-checks Ukraine and Egypt and Brazil and Bahrain and delivers a satire that is remarkably sweet musically. That’s quintessential Morrissey, though. He almost always manages to be a melodic rebel, not needing to snarl or growl and yet delivering a high-powered punch in the solar plexus. It’s like one of those thin but exceedingly sharp blades that you don’t realise you’ve been cut with till after it’s actually slashed you.

A light that never goes out: Morrissey almost always manages to be a melodic rebel, delivering a high-powered punch in the solar plexus

A light that never goes out: Morrissey almost always manages to be a melodic rebel, delivering a high-powered punch in the solar plexus.

On The Bullfighter Dies, an ode to animal rights, it’s the bull’s survival that is, expectedly, lauded and not the death of its provocateur. And on I’m Not A Man, Morrissey’s oft-revealed misanthropy surfaces again as he clobbers the stereotype of the male as a jock. On World Peace, there are surprise turnouts as on Neal Cassady Drops Dead. Cassady was a prominent 1950s Beat generation figure and long-time lover of poet Allen Ginsberg and on the track Morrissey sings about Ginsberg mourning his death. Another song, Staircase At The University, points at the parental pressures to achieve that leads a young girl to leap to her death, but not without some of his characteristic satire and mockery… aimed at the girl.

A classic case: Morrissey’s Autobiography published as a “classic” imprint had created a flutter in the more uptight echelons of the book world.

A classic case: Morrissey’s Autobiography published as a “classic” imprint had created a flutter in the more uptight echelons of the book world.

I like most of Morrissey’s albums and over the years, I’ve got some that are my favourites: his first solo, Viva Hate (1988), of course; but also Vauxhall and I (1994), which I think is his best and many Morrissey fans may agree. Just listen to The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get on that album and you’ll see what I’m talking about. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FCj_C-Yb3xI is an album of songs with back stories and references, to films, to parodies of British TV shows and so on, but delving into that is better left to die-hard devotees of Mozza (as he is known to his fans; he’s also known as Moz; or, the one I like best, as the Pope of Mope!).

Getting back to World Peace, it’s not an album that I’d recommend to those who aren’t familiar with Morrissey’s music but it could be part of a nice trifecta that you can put together for a weekend: Viva Hate, Vauxhall and I and the new album.

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