MIDIval PunditZ :: Midival Timez
[six degrees]   review from derek  

With the release of their self-titled debut, the New Delhi-based team Gaurav Raina and Tapan Raj entered the newly explored realm of Indian electronica with a voice completely unto themselves. Borrowing heavy syncopation techniques from London's Asian Underground and the more melodic aspects of America's Asian Massive, they found a gorgeous balance: dark and driving one minute before unfolding into soft symphonies the next. The record was an amazing sampler of a fresh sound approached with high expectations and, more importantly, pulling them off.

What that album did not have was straightforward coherence in the way complete albums do. Hence we can assign it as a breakthrough compilation of sorts. It would be a shame to label it as a preparation for Midival Times, however, for artists, if they are interested in evolving their craft, seem to play out like a chronological timeline when all is said and done. So it would be too easy to say it was the premonition of what was to come. Instead of viewing the process in this fashion - one thing leading to another, and so on - it suits us to engage in an elder theory, understanding time as circular. In this way, one thought does not lead to the next any more than an action creates a reaction. For the musically inclined, this means creating music that is so of the moment it somehow sneaks out of the oppressive regulations of time and is a total entity in and of itself.

These PunditZ are moving in this direction, or, more to the point, are this direction. Midival Times is a complete album, segueing from light strings and ghazals to monstrous forces and rhythms. Raina and Raj have proven themselves sonic philosophers translating a movement in music through inspired five- to seven-minute compositions that are, in the same breath, something very distinct and local while embracing and universal. Their ability to program and produce such eloquent, organic sounds in a technological domain bespeaks their studied education tempered with an obvious passion for moving dance floors, souls and whatever else in this life is worth moving.

The lyrical interplay between Vishal Vaid's Urdu and Ajay Naidu's slick poetry on "136" promises to become as widespread as "Bhangra Fever." Unlike the dhol-led d'n'b nature of that track, "136" features a steady four-on-the-floor with resonant sound effects plastered across the seven-minute shell. Vaid lays down a gorgeous melody as the tablas drive, but it is on "Khayaal" that the singer gets to flex fully. A softer beast by design, with weightless atmospherics and a midtempo beat, this is that song when you stop and ask, "What is this?!" -simply because it's destined for your headphones; late night comedowns, quiet reflection, solitary inquisition, and the host of other personal moments one spends with themselves. Call it the lead song of the soundtrack to yourself.

"Saathi" is another head-turner, featuring the distinct Ustad Sultan Khan sarangi-led bounce. A downtempo jam guaranteed to make hands tap, it's the perfect opener for an album of equal magnitude. Sitar player Anoushka Shankar plays stealthily over the low-key "Rebirth," while the PunditZ return to blacker ways on "Ali." There is something uplifting in the way melancholy inspires a human, something we can't quite get at with words. It's an expression, an innate feeling that even in the trenches something higher awaits us. This is the backdrop of "Ali" much the way Cheb I Sabbah's "Raja Vedalu" (not surprisingly produced by Raina) flipped a heady polemic on drum 'n bass.

Alas, the album is not spotless: "Kesariya" (also featured on the Let's Enjoy ost) finds a solid groove but ends off sounding like an overhyped car commercial, while "Enemy" keeps a massive rhythm before losing itself in unnecessary rock guitars. For the subcontinent, the Punditz may be capitalizing on the huge popularity of '80s guitar rock, but its appeal on western ears are outdated. It's an unfortunate set-up for the charm of "Hold On," a fitting closer to a far-reaching record. Perhaps the greatest clue to the serene contentment of this record lies in the title. If we recall, all the knights searched far and wide for the grail that represented what is beyond time. All those knights failed, meeting death and misery along the path. The only one to stay behind and dive inside was Galahad, and alas, it was he who found what could never be looked for.

ethnotechno rating: 5 out of 5
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  1. morning
  2. saathi -feat. ustad sultan khan
  3. raanjhan (pick)
  4. 136 (pick)
  5. rebirth
  6. khayaal -feat vishal vaid (pick)
  7. piya
  8. kesariya
  9. ali -feat kailash kher (pick)
  10. enemy
  11. hold on