Remember Mumbai prog/psych rock band Rosemary? They went from angsty, grungy rock to more mind-expanding patches, knocking off a few big band competitions such as Livewire at IIT Bombay’s Mood Indigo, Nagaland’s Hornbill Rock Contest and Bangalore’s Strawberry Fields along the way before finally calling it quits in 2011. Frontman Achint Thakkar, it seems, has moved on from channelling everything from Nirvana to Tool and Pink Floyd ever since he became a solo musician.
That change of scene is more than evident on his debut solo album Shalimar, which has 10 tracks that are firmly rooted in electronica, world music, fusion and a bit of rock. Achint has swapped modulating guitar pedals and vocal effects for tweaking synths and enlisting a hell of a lot of collaborators. One quick look at the liner notes, and you can spot names like Blaaze (delivering rhymes on ‘Impression’), vocalist Neeti Mohan on ‘Komal’, AR Rahman’s favorite flautist Naveen Kumar and scene regulars such as The Lightyears Explode bassist Shalom Benjamin and Achint’s Rosemary bandmate and bassist Suraj Manik and violinist Ajay Jayanthi.
The only way to sum up a 10-track album like Shalimar is to call it cinematic, with Thakkar pretty much becoming a music director for a film that he hopes will start playing in your head once you hear the songs. If Shalimar was a film, I’d say it would be an artsy, coming-of-age road trip movie. Apart from a prominent flute section, Achint seems to have an affinity for that Carnatic sound, putting a spotlight on the nadaswaram and shehnai on tracks like ‘Betasi’ and his emphatic closer ‘Exit Shalimar’, which melds tabla and a gang chorus.
But the real stand-out tracks are when Achint gets real punchy with the beats, glitching it up on tracks like ‘Tandav’, which is backed by a 80s synth keyboard line. The core of Shalimar comes precisely in the strong middle, with songs such as ‘Last Dance’ featuring a groovy bassline that interacts with more shehnai and synth elements and ‘Impression’ encompassing Achint’s sound perfectly – one that moves fluidly between Indian classical, modern electronic music, rock and anything else that the composer/producer/guitarist fancies. Even ‘Meeting the Mountain’, peaks on the cinematic front, with strong vocal melodies and a stomping beat.
For anyone who’s been a fan of Rosemary, Shalimar may not be of much interest. This music goes beyond garden variety fusion, definitely influenced by the likes of AR Rahman. But it proves that Achint has honed a new craft that doesn’t just involve guitars, loopers and pedals like his last project.
Stream Shalimar by Achint here.