Music Review | Mantis
Listen to this album.
Shaa’ir + Func’s third album has an assured confidence that pulses right across it, and an energy that almost manages to capture the intensity of their live performances. The pop hooks come fast and easy throughout the 14 tracks, and while that muddles some of the songs into me-too sameness, it makes for a mostly memorable listen. An album-liner length summary of Mantis, for convenience, would read: “Mantis is one of Indian indie’s albums of the year so far.”
Shaa’ir + Func is singer-songwriter Monica Dogra (Shaa’ir) and Pentagram guitarist Randolph Correia (Func). They formed the group in 2007, and have released two albums prior to Mantis—2007’s New Day: The Love Album and 2008’s Light Tribe. Their live shows are extremely popular (and feature Func’s fantastically oddball eyegear), and their sound pleasingly “global”—they’ve performed across the US and Europe, and in festivals such as The Big Chill, and Glastonbury in the UK.
Funk overload: Mantis is an assured, confident album from the duo
Mantis sees them settling into a trademark sound—synth-heavy electro pop, Dogra’s soaring vocal lines, Correia’s occasional display of guitar virtuosity and stuttering beeps and basslines.
But it’s not all predictable. Early tracks such as Take it Personally have a dark piano counterpoint to the clubby funk beats, lending them a deeper edge. Opener We’re not Alone similarly features a Portishead-esque breakdown halfway through its pounding verses, and builds up slowly to Correia’s measured, restrained guitar solo.
Then there’s the Ganpati-bappa-morya exuberance of My Roots. It’s the album’s freshest song, featuring raucous street-procession percussion complete with the sound of those cheesy 16-note keyboards that usually belt out Anu Malik covers.
Love Love Love is a nice ballad, although it sounds a bit sedate in comparison with its live cut.
All in all, the weak tracks only conspire to drag Mantis down to consistently above average, and the album’s highs (and there are many) shine out pretty strongly. The production is excellent throughout, unsurprising for an album that’s been two years in the making.
Finally, there’s an aspect to Mantis in particular and Shaa’ir + Func’s music in general that’s worth pointing out. Their lyrics sometimes touch political themes, a tendency best exemplified in their live shows, which feature quite a bit of banter. Sure, it doesn’t have the in-your-face verbosity of, say, Asian Dub Foundatio n, but there’s an affirmation here, however slight, of an outside world. There’s catharsis and anger directed at things beyond one’s personal experience—and things not quite right.
Electronica usually falls into comfortable transcendental trappings (“Electric Universe”, anyone?) and while there’s nothing wrong with that, Shaa’ir + Func’s music seems to be heading in a more exciting direction. Some may find it all a bit ham-fisted, but this is engaged electronica— and it’s well worth encouraging.
Mantis can be downloaded for free at www.shaairandfunc.com