Delightfully bizarre, unconventional and dreamy are the words that come to mind when trying to describe what’s good about the debut album by the Delhi-based trio Begum. Bagh will have you scratching your head even as you repeatedly press the replay button. Although the album is so out there and distinctive, I’d be lying if I said that this wasn’t what was expected from the band considering that two of its members – guitarist and vocalist Kartik Pillai and drummer Karan Singh are also part of the equally eccentric Peter Cat Recording Co. Bassist Kshitij Dhyani completes this curious trio that is Begum. With this debut album, the band has clearly announced themselves as one of the most eclectic and bravest music outfits there is in the Indian indie scene right now.
Strange sounds and unusual structures dominate this album, and there is no discernible flow to it as the listener moves from one peculiar track to another. It is hard to slot Begum’s music into a particular genre, although even someone who hates it will be forced to concede that the band’s creativity and candor shine though in every track. Ranging from psychedelic to punk to grunge, I guess the best way to describe their music is experimental. Each track is constructed to create an unforgettable ambience using any means possible – be it gravelly vocals, scratchy sounds, weird old-timey recordings or sudden tempo shifts. Kartik is not overly worried about showing off his crooning skills with this album: the vocals are raw and raspy and sometimes quite reminiscent of Beck.
The first track – ‘Chinbien’ sounds like two completely different tracks- a mellow yet bittersweet instrumental followed by a foot-tapping punk rock-inspired second half- put together to create a particularly long and peculiar song. As the opening track it works by managing to beguile the listener but also managing to throw them off a bit. Slurred vocals and a catchy riff lend to the rock and roll vibe of the song.
Next comes three very short songs just about two minutes each. ‘Make it Till 4′ and ‘In The Basement’ are very reminiscent of old-school punk and garage. The languid vocals and peppy percussion lend both songs a youthful and exuberant touch. Sandwiched between these two upbeat numbers is ‘Lonely Road’ – a melancholy acoustic number: its leisurely pace, minimalistic arrangements and dark vibe make it a personal favorite and one of the most memorable songs of the album.
The fifth track – ‘Imposter (Intermission)’ is possibly the weirdest and eeriest track on the album. It starts off with a sample of what sounds like an old recording of a magician talking about the Water Torture Cell. This was Harry Houdini’s famous act so I guess we can assume the voice at the beginning of the song is his. At 7 minutes long and with no vocals or interesting shifts, the song is dull and utterly forgettable.
The second half of the album starts with ‘As He Was’ – a very laidback track that has a long guitar-driven intro. Just when the vocals kick in and before you quite realize what has happened, the song ends. This song isn’t something special and gets lost from memory when you are done listening to the album.
‘Waiting’ is a very grunge-y track that jolts the listener from the preceding tracks, being so heavy and dark. The vocals are quite garbled and from what I could discern, this tracks seems like Begum’s version of the Irish ballad ‘Danny Boy’. The next track ‘Raj D-Minor’ is more relaxed and has a very reggae and dancehall vibe to it. With a very captivating hook that will have you on your feet, this song is one of the standout tracks of the album.
An upbeat and happy track, ‘Marry Me’ is another personal favorite. With a nice riff and a catchy melody, Kartik’s voice weaving in and out just at the right moments, it does clock in at more than 6 minutes but never gets monotonous.
The last and the shortest track on the album, the alt-rock inspired ‘Arumgambay’, stands out for its enticing bassline. The guitar-laden track seems to roll the credits on the album and is a nice enough track when compared to the rest of the album. It is too short and its only purpose is to usher the end of the album.
Bagh is inventive, bold and strange. There are some charming touches to this effort, recorded in the homes of the band members: you can sometimes hear the banter at the end of a song. In the end, Bagh is not the kind of album that will comfort you with a bunch of easy listening tracks. This is a bunch of obviously talented and brave musicians who have come up with an offering that borrows from so many genres and brings together such unnatural sounds that alienating the listener is an obvious risk. Whether they manage to strike the right balance between the weird and the wonderful is up to the individual listener but there’s no denying Bagh is probably one of the most original albums to be released of late. The album as a whole presents a very enjoyable and thought-provoking listening experience.