Two things could have worked against Bangalore-based The Bicycle Days on their debut album Calamitunes – a full-length debut almost three years after a well-received EP is a massive risk, given you wouldn’t really know whether the first set of fans you’ve garnered back then would still remain interested in the sound. But if the interest levels did indeed wane, then the best thing to do is experiment with the sound. And that’s the second risk this band has taken. The Bicycle Days has experimented with a whole range of sounds and effects over this nine-track offering, some of which give you a strong sense of déjà vu while others take you into uncharted territory (when you say psychedelia-infused music, do we really have a template?) But here’s the catch – these experiments move completely away from the tried-and-tested mainstream formats of songwriting and putting together an album no catchy choruses, nothing you could even hum in the shower or even jump around and bang your heads along with at a live gig.
The album opens with Vicious, which starts on a very raw bass with no embellishments. If you’ve already seen this bunch perform live, you can imagine the flurry of colours and random images that could hit your consciousness along with this track. But the mood of the album is not set until the next track Conundrum begins slow and easy before Karthik Basker’s vocals cry Soo…comfy in my cozy cocoon/Why break my stride/Why break my stride… – a jazz-influenced break that moves into the next track, the first single from the album Crawl (The Human Experience), which is probably the most psychedelia-influenced track from this lot. In fact, if you have already seen the video that they released for the single, it would feel like you’re adding soundtrack to cut-scenes from the Tree of Life, or let’s say we let our imagination run wild you could call it something like tripping on acid and taking a round of the human nervous system with this song playing in the background.
Now, more about the sound. While The Bicycle Days initially set out to explore a completely Radiohead-esque sound with the ambient effects, the echoes, and the soft, soothing vocals, with the change in line up and the direction of the band, it’s unfair to expect them to still stick to the sound that got them noticed in the first place. But hey, just so that we don’t complain, Crawl (The Human Experience) takes us back to something a lot more familiar and is definitely the most haunting piece on the album more focus on the sound, the lyrics can go hang.
But talking about taking a step back or re-inventing old material, there’s Circles (Information =/= experience), a track out of their EP, which has been re-imagined, retaining very little besides the repeating original crisp and aggressive guitar riffs. Perhaps the reason why this version was included in the album was to just display their entire evolution in sound. But, redone and revisited, this version of Circles might as well stand out as a separate track, on its own merit.
First thing you have to say about Indignation is how it picks up the pace right from the very opening of this track – the percussions and the guitar riffs fervently move along with vocals that are as agitated. The track ends on a very interesting note a medley of effects and sounds that swirl around with a brief dialogue from the Rajinikanth film Shivaji. Hell, they even close the song with the signature Rajini guffaw. My favourite on this album is already set.
Up next is ‘Escape’, which rests heavily on the bass and a regular hi-hat section, but what caught me here are the lyrics contemplative yet simple that transcends into urban poetry (Tonight my muse is too loud/ and I can’t sleep’, being my favourite.) The album moves into very heavy electronica territory closer towards the end of the album beginning with Hush. The track is heavily laden with muffled guitars and synthesized effects, which is now a lot more vivid. The song calls out to one’s beautiful mind, and that is exactly what it does spark up your imagination and takes your mind on a trip quite peculiar, and this is yet another junction where you’d sit up and scream Radiohead! And that’s only because of the mood they set. The penultimate track Moulds slackens the pace with Basker’s dreamy vocals and the soft-strumming guitars. This serves as pretty much a lead-in for the final track Truce.
By now, you’d hit a certain sense of familiarity, which thankfully, is not an issue since we’re already on the final track. But then, the pace could have picked up a little or gone into something that packs a little more punch rather than ending the album on a medley of sounds that, in the end, dissipates like wisps of smoke (maybe the feeling of being left wanting more is on purpose?)
We weighed out the risks, explored the sound and dipped into an inebriated trip into colours, concepts and pure randomness, and if there’s a verdict that needs to be out on The Bicycle Days’ debut effort, let’s say that Calamitunes is an album which is cocksure of itself and makes no attempts at pretensions, be it to just ‘fit the bill’ or be popular.