At its core, Bats is, like, six cans of Red Bull. Or like Prozac washed down with an espresso shot. It has a delirious energy that threatens to derail with every dip, only to come thrashing and thwacking back up with the next crest. What we hear is essentially four people battering the life out of their instruments (and mic; whatever), playing as fast and loud as possible. It is frantic alternative music with the spirit of punk somewhere in it, and not inconsiderable effects-ridden trickery.
But with such a gung-ho approach – the tempo and energy rarely varies through the duration of the record – you run the risk of the songs just sort of merging into each other and sounding repetitive and monotonous. But The Circus adeptly sidestep this particular roadblock through ‘<Insert Name Here>’, a lovely little acoustic ballad placed in the second half of the album as a kind of breather with its tender and contemplative mood.
In the past, The Circus have generally tended to get carried away and overdo the whole harmonic vocal delivery routine – what with their guitar-player having a massive frontman complex (The Dave Mustaine Syndrome, so to speak) – but finally, these guys seem to have managed an amicable balance. The dual vocal performance on the record is fantastic (if a little repetitive at times), holding fort even when the instruments threaten to spiral out of control. The lead vocalist, placed a little behind the mix and washed down with heavy reverb, does a stellar job through his textural and hazy musings, capturing the essence of the songs and springing forth some quite memorable chorus lines and harmonies. ‘Spontaneous Combustion Love Song’, which really owes its allegiance to Incubus and not just because of the song title, is one highlight: the powerful bassline settles into a playful dynamic with the drums, and subtle vocal sways and flourishes direct this very charming composition. And a word of advice: Don’t go by the lyric sheet that the album comes with – the chorus to ‘Andromeda’ is sung in gibberish, no matter what the sheet may claim; it’s indecipherable.
The production on the record is another standout feature – overproduced, yes, most definitely; but that’s not really a bad thing here, with lots of clever shenanigans applied to the instrumental mix by Anupam Roy, whom we can maybe call the fifth Circus. It sounds daunting to manage all the tapoing-poingg guitar effects, the riffs – oscillating between contemporary alternative rock and metal – the overdose of shredding, the dynamics of the powerful drum accentuation in the music, and the vocalist’s cultured reflections, in addition to the band’s penchant for fucking around with knobs of all sorts. Yet Roy captures it all admirably, giving it definition and tossing that clusterfudge into a comprehensible mix, even if the tones are at times vaguely reminiscent of bands he’s produced in the past.
And while Bats is an exceptional release (in an Indian context, even more so), it’s still not a ‘great’ album. It lacks something – variety, maybe; or maybe that indefinable quality. The band’s sound has progressed and matured, and the majority of the album is an obvious display of this growth, but the final third is somewhat underwhelming – ‘Poxilation Chickachaemia’, ‘7 by 8’, (naming a song after its time signature, heh), and ‘It Feels Good When The Medications They Kick In’ – as The Circus resort to old tricks and the initial thrill is offset by this sense that the record may just be overstaying its welcome. Ultimately though, Bats is a rare must-listen album by a band that’s having a hell of a good time doing what they’re doing.