After listening to Khwaab, there is no doubt about the fact that up-and-comers Aswekeepsearching are definitely not trying to play safe. They could have stayed in the box and created catchy, mainstream, alt or pop-rock-inspired tracks. Instead, they chose to stick out with a post-rock, chilled-out sound with huge soundscapes, interesting samples and barely-there lyrics. Eclectic, sometimes confusing, equally weird and gutsy, Aswekeepsearching has taken a bold step by creating an instrumental rock album as their debut album. Although they have already released an EP, their debut offering Khwaab is more refined and certainly better-crafted.
Instrumental rock or experimental rock is rarely conducive to be earworm-y singles because such tracks are usually not catchy enough to become instant hits. It takes time for such a track to grow on the listener. This is why it is a risky move for any band let alone one that has just entered the music industry, to shun the popularity that other musical genres can offer and try and carve a space for themselves in the experimental rock scene. As their name betrays, Aswekeepsearching is still looking for the sound that fits them like a glove and if you listen to their EP Growing Suspicions and Khwaab successively, you get a glimpse of the path that they are on towards becoming an established band with a distinctive sound. Undoubtedly, this is a treat for fans who get to be on the journey with the band themselves and watch the artists that they are rooting for flourish. This by no means suggests that Aswekeepsearching sounds like a rookie college band. On the contrary, their first full length offering is well-produced, restrained, cohesive and interesting.
Even their harshest critics cannot doubt their drive and passion. The band has been in the industry a mere two years and they have already released an EP and a full-length album and have scored a record deal with a Russian label and completed their first international tour in Russia. Few of their compatriots have had such good fortune but we cannot give credit to lady luck. The sheer determination of this Ahmedabad-based band consisting of founding members Uddipan Sarmah and Shubham Gurung vocalist/guitarist and keyboardist respectively, and newer members Bob Alex on bass and Gautam Deb on drums have gotten them through line-up changes and a successful crowd-funding stint that raised them enough money to produce their debut album.
While listening to Khwaab, one can sense the influence of legendary experimental rock bands like Mogwai and maybe even Sigur Ros who they consider as inspirations. The songs on Khwaab are impactful with exuberant guitar soundscapes, theatrical atmosphere and an imposing feel. The album is not something that you can sing along to on your daily commute, the sound fills you up and you need to stop and sit down and let the music envelop and lift you.
Ativa, the first song on the album, is the longest one on the album clocking in at over 7 minutes. This song is seven minutes of mellowness that is accented by the languid guitar hooks. The acoustic guitar really stands out during the guitar and synth-driven intro that sets the mood for the whole album. Almost two minutes into the song, the percussions and keyboard kick in that lift the tempo of the song and makes it sound more optimistic compared to the somewhat dreary intro. Just by listening to the long instrumental section of the song, one might be mistaken into thinking that Ativa is an uplifting track but this is quickly dispelled by the lyrics that talk of longing and angst.
An import from their EP, In Circles has a much faster tempo than its predecessor. Even though the intro starts off with the soft tinkling sounds of a stream, the drums join in almost immediately giving this track a more alt-rock feel. Unlike the previous track, where the vocals were added only at the end almost as an afterthought, here the vocals are highlighted almost at the beginning and play a more prominent part in the track. The heavier guitars and drums, and distortions combined with the heart-wrenching vocals add to the angst of the song.
We Sound Like Strangers is another fast-paced track but this track is almost purely an instrumental one. Instead of any vocals, the band has used a very eerie and jarring vocal sample that jumps out from the rest of the track and adds to the distressing nature of the song. The smooth melody and beguiling riff present at the start of the song slowly builds to create a tension in the song but instead of peaking at a crescendo or a flourish, the track mellows out right at the end giving the song a sense of relief or finality.
A personal favourite on the album Other Side, starts off with a piano-driven intro that adds to the gloomy tone of the song. Unlike the previous tracks, where the guitars are center-stage, here the piano or keyboard is more discernible. There is also an interesting mash-up of piano and electronic sections at the beginning that sets Other Side apart from other songs on Khwaab.
One of the inherent drawbacks of creating an instrumental or post-rock album is that it tends to get monotonous. Sadly, Khwaab does begin to feel a tad tiresome by the time one reaches When Will They Talk?. This is another track that has been taken from their EP but it adds nothing to their debut album. It sounds like a depressing filler song that is easily forgotten.
Thankfully, the next track Catalogues changes the course of the album just when the monotony was seeping in. From this track on the album gets grungier with punchy drumming and quickening tempos. Catalogues is unnerving from the get-go with a distorted tense intro and even though it gives way to a slightly relaxed guitar-driven instrumental section, the uneasy feeling remains. The track also shifts gears in the middle becoming very heavy and jarring. The distortions, static noises and disjointed parts of the song makes for an unsettling yet unforgettable number that is another stand-out for me on the album.
Banshee dampens the pace set by the previous track and it can be missed especially when placed after Catalogues. The vocals and lyrics piles on the over-sentimentality in the track and maybe Banshee should not have been brought in from their EP and included in Khwaab. Along the same vein, the next song What If_ is nothing to rave about. Its a nice enough rock song with the deep, hard-hitting bass juxtaposing well with the rest of the song.
Life=Parallels is an interesting, easy-going instrumental track that is one of the shorter songs on the album. Again, the vocals have been left out and instead vocal samples have been used that add to the other-wordly vibe of the song. This time around, the vocal samples are pleasing and regardless of the absence of sudden tempo shifts and dramatic flourishes, the Life=Parallels is a memorable piece on the album.
Next comes the shortest track in the album – The Moment where the piano really shines. This tiny song is soothing and minimalistic and sets the pace to usher in the end of the album. Being such a small track, it does get lost considering that the last track on the album B-303 is so dramatic and smacks you in the face. Just when it seems like Khwaab will end on a melancholic, comforting note after listening to The Moment, B-303 comes in with a bang and ends the album on a high.
The newer material on the album is definitely a step above the songs that they picked from their EP to include in Khwaab. The songs on the album fit well and the purely instrumental tracks really stand out on their own. One of the few complaints with the album is that the lyrics sometimes get overly emotional and in quite a few tracks, the lyrics/vocals would not be missed. Aswekeepsearching may not have the kind of songs that become earworms but you cant shake off the feeling you experience after listening to their album. The ethereal songs with their expansive soundscapes will have you thinking about the album long after you are done listening to it. There isnt too much competition in the post rock space in India and this could be one of the factors that could help Aswekeepsearching gain more momentum here. Needless to say they also have oodles of talent and ambition that will help them along the way along with their oeuvre that is sometimes inexplicable but mostly captivating.