Beyond The Name Theory
Okay, I’ll be honest about this. The reasons why I first tried the three bands mentioned in this week’s edition of DC had nothing to do with their music, at least initially. Later, once I had heard their stuff, I got hooked but that is another matter. But the reason why I first picked up each of their albums had little to do with their music. It was actually about names.
Take Alt-J. That’s the name of one of the three bands that are occupying my playlist. It’s a four-member British band, originally from Leeds, which makes music that takes folk, rock and pop and melds them into a melodic output that’s rather pleasing to the ear. But even before I heard their music, I was intrigued about their name. Alt-J is actually a keyboard command, and if you perform the command—that is, press the alt and J keys together, you get the mathematical symbol ? (delta). Don’t try it on your PC because it works only for Mac keyboards.
But although I may have picked up Alt-J for their curious name, I found their debut album, An Awesome Wave, to be a very original take on folk-pop. Alt-J infuse elements from dubstep, art-rock and folk into their music and produce a sound that, despite having the influence of several genres, sounds unique. Their music isn’t heavy, cerebral stuff, but yet not light and ephemeral as much of the pop you hear on mainstream radio tends to be. On An Awesome Wave, which came out last year, the track to listen to is Tesselate, which is a nice sounding word that means to “form into a mosaic pattern”. The song’s a great combination of electronica and harmonies and its name is apt because most of Alt-J or ?’s music is like that—it forms a pretty pattern.
Yeasayer isn’t a band that is new. The Brooklyn, New York, band has been around for at least six or seven years. Critics like to call what they play psychedelic pop but that doesn’t do justice to their genre-defying compositions, which draw upon Eastern, Middle-Eastern, rock, pop and folk music genres. But my introduction to the band was not on account of their music; nor on account of the name of the band, which, incidentally means ‘a person who always agrees with or is submissive to others’, a rather strange name for an indie psych-rock band, if you ask me. No. It was because of the name of the guitarist and vocalist, Anand Wilder. I was intrigued by his first name and then discovered that yes, he is of half Indian origin.
I checked out Odd Blood, Yeasayer’s second full-length that came out in 2010 with music that was very psychedelic and had Middle-eastern influences. And now, they’ve released Fragrant World, which I’m still listening to. It’s also psychedelic but heavier; it has more synthesisers, is a bit darker and less ‘hooky’ but still enjoyable. And, of course, it has Anand Wilder who plays a mean guitar. One more thing: their live shows are great, complete with psychedelic shows and interesting lighting. There are a bunch of those worth checking out on YouTube.
The third band on my current playlist I first picked up because of two things—their name, which is Japandroids, and because it is a duo. I have a soft spot for rock duos, especially if they are power rock duos such as The Black Keys or The White Stripes. Japandroids are more than a power rock band. They are loud and noisy and committed rockers. The duo—Brian King (guitar, vocals) and David Prowse (drums, vocals)—despite their name, are from Canada and have two full-lengths to their name. The first album Post-Nothing was actually released as an after-thought by the two because they had by then given up hope that the band had any future. In fact, the album was the last project before they planned to dissolve the band.
Then came resounding critical acclaim, particularly from music commentators such as the website Pitchfork, and Japandroids’ fortunes changed. Their fan base spread outside of Canada and now they’re a band that is on every indie rock connoisseur’s favourites’ list. In summer this year, they launched their second album, Celebration Rock, aptly titled because it came after a break up that was narrowly averted. This sophomore effort is as noisy and melodic (yes, curiously, Japandroids are able to make two clashing adjectives work together as descriptors for their music) as Post-Nothing but the music is clearly happier. If you like power duos (as I said, The Black Keys, The White Stripes and so on…), you should try Japandroids.
At the risk of making Jukebox a jazz corner, here’s another brilliant album that is making me take another dip into that genre, something that began with Keith Jarrett’s Sleeper. Spirit Fiction is Ravi Coltrane’s first album on the legendary Blue Note label and on the nearly hour-long album, there are 11 tracks, all of them superb. Coltrane, who plays soprano and tenor saxophones, has a jazz pedigree that few exponents can boast of. He is the son of the iconic jazz saxophonist, the late John Coltrane and his wife, the late pianist Alice Coltrane. Coltrane junior is a post-bop artist, playing with a small combo band whose sound harks back to the mid-1960s. Great stuff, this new album. Worth many listens.