• Mon, Oct 22, 2018
Reviews

Paradigm Shift's New Album Sammukh Review: Unbridled, Indulgent Fun

7.5

album Reviews Sep 27, 04:14pm

Paradigm Shift makes highbrow music legitimately entertaining (crazy, right?) YES. PROG CAN BE NOT PRETENTIOUS AND LISTENING TO SOME ALBUMS DOES NOT ALWAYS NEED A CALCULATOR.  

Take off your monocle and your comfortable, judgmental flannel. Get rid of your smirk, put on Paradigm Shift’s new full-length album ‘Sammukh’ and do something you haven’t done in a while when listening to prog-fusion-metal releases in this scene: enjoy the fuck out of it.

 

I could go into detail for hours and hours about the production, the quality of musicianship and the general complexity of what everyone is doing on the album (and there are noteworthy performances throughout its run-time), but once, just once, maybe we should look at what this is supposed to be as its most base level: music. Remember? That thing which you listen to and go on a journey that is as much of the heart as it is of the brain? In the present landscape, that thing has taken a backseat to being impressed or wowed by technical skill. Barring a few exceptions who are killing it right now because they are not doing this and instead writing genuine and emotive music that just happens to be a bit complex, the market in the genre is painfully boring and predictable. Paradigm Shift, a Mumbai-based six-piece that definitely wants to be progressive in its perception, has hit upon something that probably makes them unique right now, which is an element of unbridled, indulgent fun.

 

Let’s get the basics out of the way first. ‘Sammukh’ is ten tracks long and runs for a bit over an hour. So from that point of view, it is a heavy listen. The track lengths are intimidating and you know from the first minute that there is a lot of music to get through. But it rarely seems like a drag; there’s enough happening and just about enough variation in the sonic palate to keep listeners interested (for the most part). The production is… fine. It’s become the norm nowadays to have this squeaky clean production style for progressive albums; super precise and punchy rhythm sections, extremely clean cleans and very smooth, clear, super well-defined distorted guitars when the time comes to chug-chug and get those festival crowds a-jumpin’. There’s definitely nothing out of place here, but there’s also nothing new, experimental or offbeat about it. But it is the standard for the genre and ‘Sammukh’ isn’t reinventing anything sonically, so one must accept it for what it is with equanimity. It certainly sounds good. The performances are really, really good throughout (which is again the absolute standard for prog these days). Notably, Kaushik Ramachandran’s vocals are phenomenal. The guy has excellent range, great control over the timbre of his voice, and of course, his vocal parts are on point. In some places they’re even open-mouth and slow-clap worthy (there’s a bridge in the song ‘Wajah’ which made me run to my speaker and shake his hand figuratively). Guitar solos interestingly play second fiddle (no pun intended) to Ajay Jayanthi’s often melodic but mostly balls-to-the-wall violin leads and solos. There’s the ubiquitous violin section where Kaushik doubles up the violin melody with Carnatic vocals (why, oh why, does every single album in this genre always have this!?), but it does prove to be an opportunity to showcase both of their prodigious talents. It would have been even cheesier if it didn’t sound good, but these two are pros, so it works. The rest of the band are very sharp and precise in their instrumentation (Chinmay Agharkar and Desikan Gopalan on guitars, Ariel Samson on some pretty interesting basslines and Aamir Sheikh on drums). But it’s their songwriting that is the most interesting facet of this album.

 

Usually, Indian prog-fusion is a mix of Western prog (technical, of course) and one of the classic Indian styles (also very technical). The problem with that is most releases, unless done really well, run the risk of diminishing both of its component genres instead of marrying them in a gratifying way; it ends up being lukewarm Western music and lukewarm Indian classical sitting next to each awkwardly instead of a proper, well-constructed union of the two. Paradigm Shift has a rather interesting approach to this concept; the Indian side of their sound isn’t some super-technical purist Indian classical music that is firstly very hard to get right and secondly doesn’t necessarily lend itself well to fusion. Their idea on ‘Sammukh’ is to marry technical Western genres with top-grade, highly refined Bollywood-inspired music. And it works well; extremely well. The songs are complex, layered, yadda yadda, but they’re also catchy. Accessible. Fun! The vocal lines and background arrangement on standout ‘Kyun’ will fit perfectly well on a proper, well-crafted Hindi film about social issues and no item numbers. It’s so effortless to listen to that it’s almost surprising; you’re left wondering why you’re having such a good time listening to a supposedly complex genre. ‘Bekhabar’ is another song that surprises; it starts with odd-time signatures and off-kilter riffs that are sure to please the music majors in the audience, and then everything winds down in seconds and suddenly you’re left listening to a proper, wistful ballad with proper, scene-where-hero-does-drugs vibe. It’s extremely funny to see how playful Paradigm Shift is with their songwriting; they don’t mind doing something accessible to pull you in. And their songs sound so, so much better for it.

 

Since ‘Sammukh’ does truly have something for everyone, let me try to break things down for different audiences.

 

1. For The Snobs: Fear not, armchair critics! The third track ‘Wajah’ has two discrete snare sounds for the verse and the chorus (yes, the verse one is tuned higher, just the way you like it), and a well-written violin arrangement that widens the sound considerably for that wall-of-sound approach that you know and love. ‘Khoye The Hum’, the next track, has a (slightly corny, though) crunchy heavy-ish riff with the violins playing your favourite Carnatic scales over it. It has those reverb-y high-pass filter drums in the background for that electronic touch. ‘Azaadi’ has some full-steam fills and a riff some of you may enjoy. You’ll find some interesting odd times throughout the album and a lot of places where you can rewind the track and figure out every little thing they did in the mix; don’t worry!

 

2. College Headbang Crowds Who Don’t Like Music But Like To Come To Fests Drunk: You all have nothing at all to worry about. ‘Azaadi’ goes from slightly confusing rhythms that might seem a little cloudy to parts where the same riffs are laid over straight, neck-breakable 4/4 drums, which shift rhythms a couple of times, but each time the resolution gets more and more delicious. Album opener ‘Vimukh’ is a full-on barn-burner that is sure to get big reactions from big crowds. If you like some sampled vocals and some hilarious, horror-movie strings over some sort of riff, the penultimate track ‘Saransh’ (which is probably the only real misstep on the album) is probably for you. The track unfortunately fails to achieve what it’s going for; it seems like a pantomime version of a more serious track, and once those naagin-dance violins come in, well… anyway, you will find more than enough moments to take a swig from your plastic bottle and violently jump on and hurt the poor soul in front of you who’s just trying to listen. Speaking of whom-

 

3. The Casual Listener: This is what is most important about ‘Sammukh’. It does a fantastic job of portraying the most engaging, interesting and easy-to-get-into aspects of the prog-fusion genre. Paradigm Shift aren’t standing in front a door and only allowing woke listeners through; they really want you to listen to their album and truly enjoy what you hear. That is the case throughout; the songs are complex, sometimes intricate and have a lot to explore past the first listen, but above all they’re so easy to get into. The vocals are always compelling and so well-performed that they kind of smooth out the proggier parts of their compositions, almost making them easy to digest. The arrangements are very smart too; they know when to pull back from the niche stuff and give you a full-on resolved chorus with huge strings and a soaring lead melody that literally anyone can appreciate. They really do make ‘difficult’ music fun and exciting for us normal people, and that, I think, is a big achievement.

 

4. Anyone Who Likes Minor-Sounding Chords: All I’ll say is that you’re in for an absolute treat.

 

Anyhow, to conclude, there’s no reason to approach ‘Sammukh’ with trepidation. Yes, it’s prog; yes, it’s sometimes (very rarely in this case) a bit cheesy, a bit complicated, a bit jarring. But no matter who you are, no matter what your attitude is towards music, you will find something for yourself in this album. Don’t think about it. Just go listen.

'Sammukh' will exclusively release on iTunes and Apple Music tomorrow. 

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