• Mon, Oct 25, 2021

Daira - Itni Jurrat? Album Review


album Reviews Sep 26, 10:52am

  The Mumbai Quintet Toes The Line Between Fun And Freaky  

One minute into the music video for ‘Mazedaar’, the first single from Daira’s new full-length ‘Itni Jurrat?’, the casual viewer is confronted with the sight of the band in facepaint playing their hearts out while ‘normal’ people are sitting, mutely watching. As the song steams towards its big choruses and heavy-as-heck guitar riffs, the people watching get up off their chairs one by one and embrace the weirdness of the situation (and along with it their own internal chaos and wildness) by throwing themselves around in the basest, most animalistic versions of themselves. Five minutes and a faux-motivational speech (that pops up in the last third of the song) later, you feel the same way most of the people in the video feel; kind of odd, but strangely free and optimistic. This sentiment is echoed in spirit throughout the 9-track album; it’s fun, nice and at times easy, but there’s always a little something off-putting (in a good way, of course); something that’s not quite right.


You can tell that something’s odd from the album opener ‘Bhookamp’. It’s one of the proggier cuts on the album and sonically quite pleasant; there is tons of space in between the instruments, the guitars are ambient and sit quite far back in the mix, and the basslines (courtesy Aswin Lal, who is on fire throughout the album) are super groovy. But all the while, there’s an undercurrent of discomfort that’s hard to put a finger on. Vocalist Piyush Kapoor is clear and energetic in his delivery, but he’s singing about how people are completely lost and still think they have direction; about how we don’t have any moral compass but still think we are progressing and bettering ourselves. It doesn’t sound like it, but the band slips an unsettling message into a calm, composed setting. It’s something they do on many songs on ‘Itni Jurrat?’; classic misdirection. It gives their music another fun dimension; you can either sit back and enjoy the songs superficially or you can dig deep into the little details and see what they’re trying to hide from you.


All this is not to say the album does not have its big-ticket in-your-face moments; it has plenty to keep the surface listener invested. ‘Raat ka Kinaara’ has big, bluesy riffs and has Kapoor pushing his voice to half-scream territory; a cracked, just-about-hanging-on vocal tone that is hugely entertaining to listen to. The song doesn't let you get comfortable, however; it devolves into a trumpet-and-bass duel in the bridge that makes their triumphant return to the heavy motif established earlier all the more satisfying. Album closer 'Outro’ is a classic balls-to-the-wall sendoff, with everything turned up to 12 and the grooves heavy enough to cause moderate neck pain. The incorporation of dissonant trumpets in this song (and the rest of the album, too) is a surprise and meshes well with the overall aesthetic.


But it is those uncomfortable, not-quite-right moments that make the album shine. 'Poshaaq’ is truly fun-loving and playful, with circus-funhouse funky guitar lines and a sultry vocal melody that is equal parts cool and laugh-out-loud funny. And when the song switches up and transitions into old-school prog guitars and Kapoor’s vocals sounding like they are coming out of a broken radio, it stick out like a sore thumb but somehow goes over really well. The fact that the lyrics are broadly about blood-soaked imperfection that is difficult to stomach makes the whole song weirdly endearing. ‘Sahaafi’, a song about a person searching for a story to write but can only find death and destruction all around them, starts off with an old-school lounge jazz intro of all things; the kind of groove that old people in the 50s used to snap their fingers to. The song is so light-hearted and accessible that it makes its dark, dystopian message harder to catch a hold of, but when you do, the song changes its countenance from a fun, frolicking laugh to a devilish smile a la Joker. It's this duality that makes the album so much fun to listen and re-listen to.


Concepts this layered and complex are not easy to pull off; they require a lot of technical ability and songwriting chops. The main reason this album work at all and isn't a garbled confused mess is the excellence of the band's members. The cracking rhythm section (composed of Lal on bass and Pratik Kulgod on drums) have an iron grip on the music, building and releasing tension with aplomb. Vikalp Sharma and Shivam Pant on guitars provide texture, space and crunch at the correct points on the album, giving the songs a lot of personality and a lot of space. Also to be noted is their backing vocals that give so much texture and body to Piyush Kapoor’s strong, arresting lead voice. The band is good enough that they can have fun with their compositions, fusing positive, uplifting parts with negative, brooding, almost evil passages that make your hairs stand on end. While this dichotomy is what makes 'Itni Jurrat?’ as good as it is, it is also the album's biggest crutch.


It is possible for many listeners to be fully involved in the album and its willingness to accept and play with darkness, but it is equally possible that they will be alienated by it. Nowhere on the album is this more apparent than the brooding, disturbing, noisy ‘Ailaan’; a dissonant, scary descent into darkness that is sure to make many listeners take off their headphones at some point during its desolate 9-minute runtime. While songs like 'Mahaul’ that fuse old-school pop-Bollywood arranged marriages with dark, imposing lyrics about loss and confusion get the balance just right to attract both superficial and deeper listeners, there are points where it might get too much for some. But boy, is it fun.


Daira's last studio effort 'Vipreet Buddhi' introduced these five unsuspecting musicians' hidden behind the paints leaving further curiosity about where does the band, as an ideology, belongs. The latest album, 'Itni Jurrat', successfully manages to look beyond these 'faces' and truly reveals their identities, in more ways than one.


'Itni Jurrat' releases on 28 September.


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