On Air Right Now
It’s always nice to meet someone who shares your tastes in music. You exchange notes, swap a CD or two or a few zipped files of new albums, maybe just exchange tips and leads on what blogs to follow, which bands to watch, or even bitch about musicians whom most others think are fabulous but you just want to avoid like the plague. But as you grow older and have less time to meet too many new people and often are finickier about who you meet, such encounters become rare. So I was pleasantly surprised last month when I met a new colleague in Mumbai who was not only as much of a podcast addict as I am but also a great fan of the NPR podcasts of which he is also an obsessive listener. Of course, although his taste in music and mine do intersect somewhere, he’s more loyal to latin jazz, while my interests veer more towards rock. Still, when we met for a drink recently in his town, we forged an instant bond about widgets, apps and downloads from the NPR website and of how our commutes have become so much more bearable.
The thing about NPR (America’s National Public Radio) is that it isn’t just free but straddles a range of genres that is mind-boggling. You want blues? They have blues. You want to discover new artists? They have them. You want a sneak preview of a new album in its entirety? They stream it. You want Alternative Latin (as my new friend no doubt does)? They have a podcast. They have interviews, reviews, chats and more. It can, indeed, be a tough choice choosing from the buffet that NPR has but if you want to stay abreast of what’s happening in contemporary music no matter what the genre, it’s the place to look. And if you have NPR Music’s iPhone or iPad app, it can make you incredibly happy. It gives you radio 24/7, previews of latest albums, a host of its regular programmes, concerts and blogs—all whenever you want and wherever you want it, although in my experience a wi-fi environment is the best place to explore the app.
Last week I heard the still-to-be-released new album, Rooms Filled With Light, by London’s indie band, Fanfarlo, days before it was actually launched. By the time you will be reading this, that album will be out and the stream most likely off the NPR website but if you wanted a preview you’d have got it. Fanfarlo fuse rock and pop and folk and use mandolins, violins and clarinets as well as the usual guitars and drums and keyboards that are the fare of rockers and make music that is joyful and full of energy. Frontman Simon Balthazer sings from the heart and Fanfarlo’s music is melodic and full of hooks. There’s drama, enthusiasm and emotion. If you’re jaded with the fare you get from chart-topping bands and repeated-to-death FM-radio fare while commuting on Indian roads, reach for Fanfarlo. I’d heard the band’s first album, Reservoir, three years back, and was struck by how they tend to do pop songs but in a literate way—songs that have clean and simple melodies and yet come with layered music—trumpets and an orchestra and great rhythm. NPR described Fanfarlo’s music as a “hug-and-a-handshake” music and I can’t think of any better way of describing this charming band.
(A DROP LETTER?) The legendary British disc jockey, the late John Peel, whose shows on BBC’s Radio 1 made history and who is credited for discovering and promoting a host of bands, had an annual list called the Festive Fifty—the best tracks of the year. The list was based on listener’s votes but in 1991, it was cancelled ostensibly because of the paucity of votes. But a couple of years later, in 1993, Peel revived the list and played a song from it every week. The topper on that list, which got named the Phantom Fifty, was Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit. Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain died in 1994 and Peel himself ten years after that, but if you want to hear the Phantom Fifty, it’s compiled together and is on a podcast. I did and I’d recommend a quick download of #keepingitpeel.