• Tue, Nov 19, 2019
Reviews

Aswekeepsearching Surprises And Delights On Their New Album

8.0

album Reviews Oct 10, 04:20pm

"Rooh" shows that the best thing about AWKS is the band’s willingness to experiment and progress
 Photo Courtesy: baibhav konwar, aswekeepsearching

India’s post-rock industry leaders Aswekeepsearching have not really had a big dud in their discography as yet, and there is a reason for it. A lot of hard work and refinement has gone into the band’s success and songwriting process, with every studio release showing a marked improvement in quality. 2017’s ‘Zia’ was an exercise in atmosphere and texture, choosing long-winded and dreamy songwriting to further their post-rock sound. This new album, ‘Rooh’, marks a pretty significant change for the band; they have pulled a left turn by almost completely forgoing that label and sound in favour of punchy, direct songs with upfront production. What results is their most clear and direct artistic statement to date.

 


This change in approach is evident just from the tracklist. ‘Rooh’ is 8 tracks long but clocks in at a relatively concise 33 minutes. There aren’t many repetitive buildups to be found here; the band chooses instead to get to the point as soon as possible. This approach also allows for much punchier production. The sounds on the whole album dial back the cavernous reverb and spacey tones of previous releases and that means that everything is more clearly heard and has more immediate impact. The rhythm section benefits hugely from this; Gautam Deb’s drums (now no longer in the band; you will see Sambit Chatterjee behind the kit from now on) and Bob Alex’s bass are positively massive. Shubham Gurung and Uddipan Sarmah choose to use a combination of decidedly heavier tones coupled with their signature delays to form a big wall of sound on many passages, which is another interesting decision. It makes the songwriting so much closer and impactful to the listener, because there are very few elements that are too distant to relate with. All this coupled with well-managed synths, pianos and some violins ensure that ‘Rooh’ has the most engaging collection of tracks the band has put out so far.

 

 


It seems a bit redundant to compare the tracks on this album to those on ‘Zia’ or ‘Khwaab’, but it is fair to say that the band’s DNA is still very much present. ‘Chasing Light’ is as cinematic as they get; the opener is supported by glitchy synths and keys before the guitars come in. Uddipan and Shubham have great chemistry throughout the album, and that is shown here; one guitar keeps the thread of the song intact while the other builds on it. We are also given a taste of Bob’s massive bass which pushes the song from restrained to heavy seemingly all by itself. Gautam’s drums have always toed the line between clean and flashy, and this album leans toward the former, which further contributes to how hard-hitting they are. Uddipan has definitely toned down the amount of layering on his vocals, opting to be front and centre when needed and holding back when not. ‘Green And Blue’ is one of the standout tracks on the album; everything from the synth line in the back to the killer chords to Uddipan’s impassioned vocal to the explosive chorus works well together. There’s a happiness to this track that makes it stand out on the album. ‘Aas Paas’ is the closest to a long post-rock track here, but there are some pretty interesting elements that make it something else. The flourishes of sarangi and piano provide some nice atmosphere. Big guitars are pretty much absent here; there is an acoustic guitar that is just about loud enough to do its job and the vocals take complete control of the track. It does build up to the big mass of delays and punchy grooves that will make hardcore fans happy, but the orchestration keeps it from being boring and it ends before wearing itself thin. ‘Eneke Najaaba’ is a short synth interlude that sounds analog and futuristic, which works as a palate cleanser. It’s the perfect length for its role; something the band repeatedly gets right on the album. The title track is the emotional centerpiece of the album, with Uddipan singing about being lost and unprepared for the future, which is partly inspired by when Shubham had thoughts of leaving the band. He feels like a deer in headlights; a feeling of having the soul of your group leaving you. This is also the most straight-up rock song AWKS have ever written, and as it turns out, they can do it admirably well. The choruses are catchy and the tones are heavy. It’s probably the most accessible and polarizing track on the album at the same time. Also, it has a huge, heavy outro that caps off the song really well and is going to be a real spectacle when they perform it live. ‘A Night In Zottegem’ is the only instrumental track on the album, which is yet another little turn. It is a little slow and clunky in its progression from quiet to loud, but it’s executed well and provides a bit more variety for the listener. There are so many little things that surprise you on ‘Rooh’, and that makes its runtime seem longer than it is. ‘Aitbaar’ is probably the most surprising track on the album, and that’s after all the new stuff offered on the previous six tracks. It’s five minutes of Uddipan’s vocal and an acoustic guitar. That’s it. No building up, no nothing. It’s the essence of AWKS but presented in a way that is the polar opposite of what they usually do. But it’s all there. The chords, the progressions and the vocals are all laid bare. It’s pretty cool that a band like AWKS is prepared to strip away literally everything in their core sound and present something so skeletal and simple. And then there’s the closer, ‘Gangtey’, which is a 2-minute track sung by Uddipan’s sister. It is a presentation of a folk song with synths and huge orchestration and is the simplest but most spiritual listen on the album. It is amazing to see just how much new ground AWKS covers on ‘Rooh’. 

 


Of course, it needs to be said that the fans of the band who love the post-rock side of it all are going to take time to get used to ‘Rooh’, because this is definitely not an album that they will be able to sit and chill with like they used to.  AWKS has broadened their horizons and taken so many songwriting and sonic directions that it’s a little hard to pinpoint what box the album falls into. But it’s a testament to the band’s growth that pretty much all of these decisions go over very, very well. Now it truly seems like the band can bring their vision to life in so many more interesting ways. It falls into the ‘good’ box, that’s for sure.

 

Listen to the album ROOH

 

Watch the music video below:

 

 

 

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