• Tue, Dec 18, 2018
Reviews

Submarine In Space- Wavelengths: Album Review

8.0

album Reviews Oct 03, 02:51am

The Delhi quintet shoots for the moon on their new album
Instrumental bands follow a well-worn path when they write music; they seek to wow you with hyperbole, technical wankery, and painfully complex ideas; trying unsuccessfully to write wordless stories that need words to be told. Submarine In Space, a band from Delhi that probably shares those lofty ambitions, has put together an album that (whether it is meant to or not) subverts this notion for the most part; instead of flying miles over your head, it is instead shy, cozy and welcoming. It is not grandiose and delusional, but well-grounded and wholly pleasant to interact with. So, by the time you compose an argument in your head for why vocal-less music sucks, you’re already having a wholesome, comfortable and fulfilling listening experience, and suddenly you’re having too much fun for your preconceived notions to matter.

Of course, one must first take note of the fact that is first and foremost an instrumental rock album, so it has some elements that exist in most of the albums in the genre. The album is only 5 tracks long but contains enough ideas for double that. It is not short by any means; every track on here easily crosses the 6 or 7-minute mark, so be prepared for ideas to take minutes to resolve instead of one verse-chorus section. There is a jam-like aspect to this album as well; rigid structure is eschewed in favour of the band’s (very talented) members giving themselves time to breathe and communicate their motifs as clearly as possible. And yes, there are a couple of long-winded guitar passages that, while very well executed, will test your endurance just by virtue of their length. But all these things have to be accepted and got out of the way beforehand, because the album itself has so much quality material to listen to that it would be a shame for you to be pretentious and not give it the time and attention it deserves.

Firstly, the production. It’s light, nimble and jazzy. There’s a lot of room in the mix for warm reverbs and thin, reedy violins and flutes (provided by Sayan Simha.) This is achieved mostly due to the sound of the rhythm section (featuring incredible, jazzy grooves from drummer Vaibhav Ahuja and equally great bass from Madhur Chaudhary), which is tight, dry and articulate. You can hear every ghost note, every little flourish in the bass. It is so clear and contained that it leaves a lot of room for Raeed Azim’s warm, beautiful keys and the band’s founder Abhishek Mittal’s spacey but astonishingly clear guitars. The album benefits greatly from how it sounds and is a big part of why it is so listenable in the first place. There is also great diversity in the sounds employed throughout. ‘Incense’ starts off with electric piano and super clean guitars, but ends up in a totally different place with an old-school keyboard sound straight out of old Mario or Pokemon games. It is expressive and at the same time funny. ‘Jamilahn’ also starts off with a low-key shuffling groove but ends in a full-scale distorted breakdown that wouldn’t be out of place in a metal band with an unintelligible logo. There is more than enough instrumental diversity all over ‘Wavelengths’ to maintain momentum over the duration of its long, winding-songs.
 
Album opener ‘Prince Of Rumada’ sets the tone for the music to come and is a good sampler of most of the things you can expect to hear. It starts off slow and measured and ends huge and heavy. The drums are fat and well complemented by a skeletal bassline; the guitars are woolly and quite muted until they bloom towards the end of the song. You can hear a sweet thin violin peeking out from time to time. The next track (and easily one of the more exciting songs on the album) ’83.83’ showcases the sounds that are introduced but not given time to shine in the previous track; the piano, bass and drums lock into a staccato, jerky modern jazz groove that is every bit as cool as trios that are popular in the contemporary scene (Mammal Hands, Gogo Penguin, early Reign Of Kindo etc.) As good as it is by itself, it acts as a support for a proper, full-blown lead guitar that takes most of the attention. The song does wind down at a point, with low, beautiful violin textures and a groove switchup that is super tasty, until the song kicks back into high gear for the outro. It is exhilarating and controls the listener’s tension beautifully. ‘Jamilahn’, while being probably the heaviest song on the album sonically, is a bit structurally jarring; the shuffling groove and repetitive, mantra-like piano and violin lines get a bit weary with time in spite of their head-bobbing bouncy energy. And while the heavy, explosive groove at the end will work very well live, it is slightly out of context when listened to on the album. ‘Incense’ is where the repetition and minor variations work to the song’s advantage; there is Robert Glasper-like jazziness in the pianos, propulsion in the rhythm section and pure, funky fun in the keyboard solo that ends the song. Oddly enough, the album ends without a huge solo or technical highlight; ‘Take Off’ is, for the most part, the band trying to simple and hard-hitting instead of introverted and delicate. The huge riff at the end of the song finds all the members letting go of any nuance or detail and just having a good time. It is an interesting change-up from the songs before it and leaves the listener with something more memorable than a 10-minute self-indulgent guitar noodle.

At the end of the day, ‘Wavelengths’ lives and dies by interest and generation thereof. It does not grab your attention from note one but instead slowly, quietly draws you in until you have forgotten what you found odd (if at all) about their sound in the first place. The songs do follow a predictable pattern that might get a bit tired after a few listens even though they do not have a concrete structure; first they are quiet, then they’re a bit less quiet and then they are loud at the end. And sometimes, one might get caught up in the constant repetition of grooves and motifs. But Submarine In Space are not demanding anything from you except that you give them the time and a fair shot (which they deserve). If you do, a lot of enjoyment is in order.

 

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