- The Lake
- The Chant
- Smokin' Sap
Most music critics are of the opinion that western popular music in India is still light years away from making an impact on the world scene. Whether this view is correct or not is open to debate, however, looking at the number of bands that are mushrooming in the Indian circuit, you would be inclined to disagree. The sheer number of new bands that have begun to multiply all around the country is astounding. And even for the most avid of music fanatics, keeping track of all these new acts is a bit of a task!
The social media boom has no doubt helped in the rapid spawning of these new Indian acts, and for the first time ever the average music listener is actually spoilt for choice. Be it jazz, blues, heavy metal, or even good ‘ol rock ‘n roll, the number of bands that are trying to enchant listeners with their compositions is staggering. But despite all this “quantity” there is sadly a dearth of “quality” – and more bands does not necessarily mean more good music. It is perhaps for this reason that new acts are not always welcomed with open arms by most serious music lovers. It takes a huge effort to extinguish these flames of skepticism, but Mumbai band Symphony Novel has managed to do just that with their debut album Aria.
Symphony Novel started their journey in 2011 and being a Mumbai based act, not too many people outside of their home territory have heard of them or their music. The fact that they dabble in so many genres (progressive / post rock / experimental / world / instrumental) may raise a few eyebrows. Luckily, this young act lets its music do the talking, thus confining any sparks of skepticism in the background.
Their debut album Aria is indeed, one of the better musical efforts put out by a young band. It comprises of just 6 tracks – a short album, no doubt – and not all the songs will blow your mind away. However, it would surely be a mistake to give this album a miss. This album is layered in so many ways that just one listen will not satisfy you. While it is true that certain musical elements in the album may irritate you, the more you listen to these tracks, the chances of you getting swept away is higher. Each song is packed with dynamite and the vibrant images inside your head at the end of each song is testament to the beautiful soundscape that the band carefully lays down for you to savour. And the fact that stalwarts of the Indian music industry, Virendra Kaith, Gino Banks and Sheldon D’ Silva, have lent a hand to Symphony Novel’s effort does give both the band and the music on the album much needed credibility.
The first song is the eerie but beautiful ‘The Chant’ where vocalist Bhavika Shetty haunts you with her whispering while the music in the background slowly builds up to a bone-crunching crescendo. The lyrics of the song comprise solely of two slokas, addressed to the Hindu deities Saraswati and Shiva. It takes very little time for Bhavika’s hypnotic chanting to get into your head and by the end of the song you would probably be transported to a progressive metal paradise, thanks to the pounding rhythm section and the guitar riffs, which effortlessly take over from the stylistic Indian classical feel that envelopes the listener at the beginning of the song. It is interesting to see the interplay of genres within a single composition, but what is more surprising (and pleasantly so) is the fact that it works remarkably well. The level of maturity that is displayed on this track makes it a wonderful album opener.
The next track ‘The Lake’ happens to be my personal favorite among all the songs and this time Gauri Aayer takes over the vocal duties and mesmerizes you with her beautiful voice. Similar to ‘The Chant’, this song has a subtle start to it, but it doesn’t take too long for the drums to kick in powerfully. The use of the guitars is indeed noteworthy and while it manages to provide a platform for the song, the guitaring does not steal focus from the vocals. ‘The Lake’ is a stand-out composition and you probably will not hear too many similar tracks that are capable of conveying such depth in mood.
‘Disorder’ is the third track on this album, and the first instrumental track that is showcased in the album. The composition starts off with a mellow acoustic guitar intro that evokes a feeling of calmness and warmth. This feeling,however, does not last too long. Rachit Sachdeva’s electric guitar very soon takes over and he uses his axe to cut through the acoustic wall of sound like a razor-edged knife. His electric guitar assault is joined in by an impressive bass and drum comboand the musical “disorder” that they bring about is an absolute treat to the ears.
Gauri Aayer comes back on ‘Infirmity’. She hypnotizes you with some chanting at the beginning of this song after which the accompanying instrumentation takes charge to create a dark, gloomy ambience. This song is very gothic, doom ‘n gloom and most definitely heavy – and the expert rhythm section does a wonderful job in getting this feel through to the listener. Gauri’s magical voice adds that extra zing to this composition, and in the end, all these elements put together work very well to make this a song worth listening to again and again.
The fifth track ‘Tranquilize‘ is another instrumental. This is no doubt an interesting composition and is surroundedby a layer of heaviness, similar to the other tracks on this album. The drum and bass combo sets up a pulsating beat and Sachdeva on the guitars does a fine job on this track.
‘Smokin’ Sap’ is the sixth and the final track on Aria. This is the closest that the band comes to being peppy or energetic and Gauri Aayer is at the top of her game on this composition. Once again the rhythm section does splendidly in driving the tempo throughout the duration of the song and the guitars also lend some fine touches to this track. This is also probably the closest that the band comes to delivering a track that is “mainstream” in an album that otherwise leans more towards the alternative. But this does not in any way hurt the album, and is a welcome contrast to the other vocal-oriented tracks.
In their first attempt, Symphony Novel succeeds in delivering an album that would make any established musician proud. It is very evident that a lot of thought has gone through the composition of each of the six tracks in Aria, and one would be hard-pressed to find a single weak track here.
Unfortunately the same cannot be said of the album as a whole. The concept behind Aria was probably well thought out but the thought-process seemed to be missing with the sequence of songs. If anything, the flow of the album feels disjointed, especially with the inclusion of the instrumentals ‘Disorder’ and ‘Tranquilize’. Make no mistake – both these instrumentals are a delight to the ears, but the star attraction of the album is without doubt the female vocals-oriented tracks. It is these tracks which define the mood of Aria and it is probably these tracks which will make you hit the play button again and again.