• Sun, Mar 24, 2019
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The New Beard Of Harmony EP Is Simply Gorgeous

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album Reviews Feb 15, 04:42pm

‘Roots’ is a great example of taking solid but sparse ideas and executing them flawlessly  
 Photo Courtesy: Beard Of Harmony, Astle M Fernandez

Here are the facts: Beard Of Harmony is a duo based in Bangalore, composed of Sreejith ‘The Beard’ Nair on vocals and acoustic guitar and Ruben Simon on another vocal and another acoustic guitar. That is all. And it’s not like many stripped-down acts whose live sound is skeletal but their studio cuts are full of off-screen elements like some extra electronic textures, synths and ambience. There’s nothing on their new, excellent EP ‘Roots’ except the aforementioned two voices and two guitars for the most part. What there is, however, is focus and precision. And it’s awesome because of it.


The EP’s simplistic, minimalist approach is something Sreejith says is a conscious stylistic decision. “It feels easier on the head when we think about an acoustic guitar. My head has turned more to an opening acoustic riff more than anything. Maybe. But you know what I mean. The fact that my songs can be recreated without any electrical equipment almost anywhere on this planet gives us a sense of simplicity bearing complexities.” ‘Roots’ is a pretty potent distillation of this concept; the songs don’t have anything in the way of huge instrumentation or things that are hiding sonically behind the vocals and guitars. But those elements on their own have tons of nuance and depth to them. And that’s mostly because Sreejith and Ruben are really, really, really good at those two things. Sreejith’s strident and deep tone handles the ‘main’ (for lack of a better word) vocals that push the lyrics of the EP’s four tracks to the fore. Ruben’s more reedy, melody-oriented voice usually handles the harmonies, and there are legitimately points on ‘Roots’ where the singing is so clear and the two so locked in that your brain can’t tell that there is more than one incredibly versatile voice. The whole is way, way more than the sum of its parts. And they’re far from slouches on guitar. The EP closer ‘Perception’ should be solid proof that they know what they’re doing, but on the rest of the EP’s more mood-based and less riff-oriented parts, they are incredibly adept at using just twelve strings between them to build tension, harmony, resolution and, to quote John Petrucci (from the memes), musical joy. Sreejith says, “Our writing so far has been very organic and subtle. In the grand scheme of things the songs feel like there are a lot more elements to it. But the challenge lies to recreate that effect with two acoustic guitars. That's where the true success of an acoustic duo lies.” He’s right.

 


This EP has a few things that it establishes right from the amazing, soulful opener ‘Beautiful Dream’; primarily the fact that the acoustic guitar is the melodic bedrock of its sound. The song uses every inch of variation it can squeeze out of its limited resources. It starts with a solitary guitar line that tries to convey the ‘grey’ emotions that Sreejith’s voice provides so well. When Ruben’s harmonies kick in and the song shifts into maybe the best chorus on the entire EP, the second guitar also provides low-end and gives more contrast than you’d expect from such a sparse arrangement. The instrumental section that follows this and finishes the song has some really interesting chords and a lead melody that seems to finish the thoughts Sreejith started earlier in the track. It’s a really strong opening track, and ‘Kuliru’ does not let this momentum go to waste. Accompanied by a bit of guitar-body percussion and an equally percussive ‘riff’, the vocals sing of memories past. This song also has an earworm-worthy hook that you can’t not sing. The song does take a while to build to each section and also ends with a long-ish lead melody that functions as a half-solo, half-outro. It (and the next song ‘Manasinde Vingal’) will test some people’s patience, but that is its virtue. Beard Of Harmony is in no hurry to cram too many ideas into their music or shove said ideas down your throat. They want to build up atmosphere and give themselves space. The flipside to this approach is that it’s a slightly demanding listen for a 4-song EP. ‘Manasinde Vingal’ is more of the same structurally, and this is possibly the only slight difficulty for the listener; the wait. You’re always waiting, and while this works to great effect in each song, it makes the overall experience a bit tired. Not to take anything away from the song, though. Vocals take center stage here, and the harmonies shine especially in the hook. It’s really hard to pick a favourite out of these four songs, and that’s an achievement.

 


‘Perception’ is a welcome and aggressive change of pace and tone. With a kick drum providing driving tempo, the song has a bluesy, more direct approach. Needless to say, this also suits them well, with Sreejith’s vocals having an added harsher edge and the grooves more concretely established than the rest of ‘Roots’. It’s exhilarating and leaves the listener at a higher energy level than what they started out with. In a few ways, however, it symbolizes what this EP is trying to do. It doesn’t want you to dance and drunkenly stagger around yelling lyrics at fellow partygoers. Sreejith says of touring their music, “We’ve had mixed responses from different kinds of people. The people who thought they could dance to our music were at the wrong place with the right people. And the ones who took us home to their uncomfortable vulnerable spaces have had more lasting impressions.” Take this EP home and give it a little bit of yourself. You won’t regret it.

Check out Beard of Harmony performance at Sofar Bangalore below:

 


 

 

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