Shri :: East Rain
While his name will be instantly recognizable as one-half of the Badmarsh & Shri that produced "Signs," to this day one of the definitive tracks of the UK South Asian scene, Shrikanth Sriram's musical dexterity may not be so well known. Classically trained on tabla, versatile on bansuri and homemade fretless bass, Shri has finally found a home for his far-reaching mind with East Rain. After three records with production partner DJ Badmarsh, Shri paints a solo landscape attempting to blur all those inconsistencies existent in divisive minds (ie East/West, organic/digital, et al). With all the patience and talent of a multi-instrumentalist with serious studio techniques, this opacity is clarified.
One of B&S's strengths was in songwriting, capturing catchy melodies (lyrical and instrumental) with decent to strong grooves. This habit continues on East Rain - the first three cuts all have near-pop sensibilities in production value and approach. The opening instrumental "Appa2" features sitar player TS Sriram, as well as a solid, non-threatening trombone and trumpet line tastefully layered inside an upbeat drum beat. The song hangs near an Ananada Shankar cut (admittedly one of his better), avoiding the cheesy lightness often displayed on his later work. The programmed violin stabs offer a sense of grounding, though the bass line could be more penetrative. It's a solid intro, though, as "Heavy World" turns out to be East Rain's top cut. The bluesy guitar/tabla interplay explodes into a sensual midtempo track highlighted by Kathryn Williams' vocals. Lyrically addressing the ever-after and heaviness of gravity, the song proves even the deepest depths revert to opposite: an acute lightness of being. The last of this trio, "East Rain," is equally interesting on a musical level; the vocals, this time by Ravi Khote ("Rags"), less so - his slightly whiney slide not nearly as sensuous.
From there the record swerves through a hodgepodge of sounds and sights. The more song-based tracks (with vocals) prove strongest: the sweeping "Watching" is another sexy effort, this by Hema Jani, and ripped up "Tarani," with its killer bowed-bass opening and driving beats (again reminiscent of the B&S days), capped by Gayatri Iyer's bols. The remaining cuts range from interesting ("Mela" is another floor stomper with further poignant use of trombone and trumpet) to the mediocre ("Ethni-City" is rather cliché, while "Lifecycle" circles itself and goes nowhere). Overall the prime cuts win in number and intention. The record leans toward creative evolution: a sturdy foundation established by 10 years of recorded work with hints of sonic foresight. As an introduction to this solo career, Shri is going to be remembered as one of the UK's great ambassadors of the digital world, South Asian or any other ancestry behind.