At the launch of Cassini’s Division’s debut album in Kolkata last month, Apurv Nagpal, CEO of the Saregama music company, recalled that one of the things that got him interested in the group was a reference in one of their songs to the artist Salvador Dali. “I don’t know how many Indian bands would throw up Dali in their music,” Nagpal said.
Strange are the ways in which Indian rock bands bag their labels. It took Cassini’s Division a good decade to pin theirs. Saregama is just one little battle won. For a band that has soldiered on for 10 years, gigging all over the land and abroad with a setlist of not-so-feel-good, not-so-FM-friendly original songs, the war goes on.
Ringside View: Saregama, Rs 150.
With their debut album Ringside View—the title is apt, given the band’s agenda of being cynical onlookers of life, says singer-songwriter Rahul Guha Roy—Cassini’s Division takes a step forward.
No longer does their music belong to the largely apathetic domain of free-to-enter pubs across the country, where a band is often considered hot if the beer is sufficiently cold. While the Kolkata-based band has stuck to the basic Wren & Martin definition of being an active English-language rock band in India—composing new songs, tightening old ones, incorporating sounds, playing live, spreading the vibe—the album brings them face-to-face with paying, discerning listeners.
The album also comes during particularly trying times for the music industry when, says Atul Churamani, vice president, Saregama, there is already an entire generation of listeners who have never bought a single CD.
Having heard the album many times over, one can say with some authority that Ringside View doesn’t have the one hummable biggie that can decisively deliver Indian rock to the world. Or even crack the rigid desi audience code, for that matter. Predecessors such as Gary Lawyer bravely tried with Nights on Fire and only partially succeeded or, depending on your perspective, fell short; Indus Creed too went dry after their album Pretty Child. Nothing in Ringside View measures up to those well-plotted but stillborn efforts.
What you have instead are songs that form remarkable crests (the rousing Glowworm and calming Rumble that book-end the album) and evident troughs (the hackneyed glam-rock guitar intro and time signature of Voivoid, though it goes through an interesting mid-song percussive phase led by Ritoban Das).
There are strong moments of originality (the theatrical north Indian marriage procession strings of Night Without End and the vocalist’s yodelling at the end), moments of pure musical reserve (Sukanti Roy’s controlled use of the distortion and feedback in Glowworm, the opening track where the album’s British executive producer Simon Henderson immediately makes his presence felt) and lazy fretwork (the Iron Maiden-stamped overused and much-abused guitar run on the funk-rap Caesar).
Ringside View is not a one-song album finally, and it doesn’t have the one song either. It is an album with 10 songs which, after multiple playbacks, when the numbers find a tighter grip on the listener, seems connected through the coordinates of brooding pessimism (Voivoid, for instance, tells the story from the tripped-out perspective of the killer of the model Jessica Lal) and dark, bottom-heavy musicality.
Holding the album together is the inspired and conceptual songwriting of Guha Roy, who also garnishes Ringside View with elements of hip hop-style singing. As far as points of ensnarement go, Guha Roy is upfront in Story of My Life, which opens with the lines Come to my place/I’ll show you my face/Take off my mask/You’ll see the real me, backed by a gorgeous reverb-ridden guitar line. It is an apt summons served by a band that has seen it through and wants some more.
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