Nitin Sawhney :: Philtre
review from gandhi
I went into listening to Nitin Sawhney's seventh and most recent studio release, Philtre with low expectations. After all, scoring over 25 films, doing a couple of compilations, and making six studio albums, in addition to gigs producing/composing for the Symphony Orchestra of Birmingham and Cirque de Soleil among others, could well leave an artist with limited creative energy. For Sawhney however, it seems keeping himself busy has only upped his game and the resulting product is one of his best works yet, and a definite contender for record of the year.
The 17-track album, as Sawhney has said in a recent interview, is less political than some of his previous releases, and thankfully, what it lacks in politics it more than makes up in brilliant soundscapes, production, and accessibility. The sounds are diverse and shift in pace and rhythm from song to song. Needless to say, the record has elements that will appeal to a broad listening base: rock and rollers, fans of funked-up soul, dnb specialists, and the internationalist, especially connoisseurs of flamenco and contemporary Indian sounds.
Philtre feels as if it could be the soundtrack for a day-in-the-life of...anyone. The first few tracks are reflective of a hesitant awakening in the morning, blending dark yet soulful jazz with mellow and evocative vocals. Track three, "Dead Man," stands out among the opening tracks, mostly for its jazzy R'n' B feel and unblemished transitions. The shifting back and forth between the rugged English lyrics of Ninja Tune's Fink and the elegant Bengali vocals of Bollywood's Reena Bhardwaj and Jayanta Bose are typical Sawhney, flawless and smooth.
Working off of "Dead Man," Sawhney moves the record along to what seems to be the section dedicated specifically to the Sub-Continent. Tracks four through eight, the fourth being "Rag Doll" which features Sawhney's mother, are rooted heavily in Indian sounds and highlight the amazing vocal ability of songstress Bhardwaj. "Mausam," a contemporary yet folksy medley also featuring Bhardwaj with Murtaza Khan, and the mesmerizing "Khoyal (Songbird)," are both standout tracks.
To counter the chill-out vibe of the previous tracks, Sawhney, with the assistance of the brilliant Spanish collective Ojos de Brujo, presents the listener with two very crisp flamenco-based tracks in "Noches en Vila Parts 1 and 2." Interspersed with castanets and flamenco guitar, the funky bass lines drop intricately and modestly while Nitin's stunning guitar riffs weave it all together.
As the record progresses, Sawhney wonderfully blends the various elements he's already introduced: Indian, Spanish, R'n'B, and drum and bass. The pace and tempo continuously gain speed throughout the rest of the album. Other highlights include the semi-political "Flipside," and the expansive "The Search," where polite strings and mean drum and bass melt together under beautiful classical Indian vocals and instrumentation working itself into a frenzy.
"Sanctuary" offers that much needed wind down, and after hearing the track, I know I have found one in the album. Philtre is truly one of the highlights of a musical genre that has been watered down by imitators and compilation-fluff in recent years. I have a feeling and hope, this is a signal of what's to come. If not, at least I have Philtre.