• Fri, Aug 12, 2022

The New Gumbal Album Is All In The Execution


album Reviews Aug 16, 02:42pm

‘Armstrong’s List’ shows off the band’s great songwriting in a lofty, ambitious and sometimes vague concept album
 Photo Courtesy: Gumbal

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again; doing a concept album requires commitment. The very definition of the term is that this story has to be a living, breathing part of the music. It’s not effective to write a concept around the music because it sounds half-assed. There have been many (not too many) attempts at this over the years that have succeeded by making the decision to focus on the music and the overarching story in parallel. Mumbai’s Gumbal have tried to achieve this with their new album ‘Armstrong’s List’, and this much is clear: it’s a fantastic album. The story is, well, another story.



The first bases to be covered with a project like this are songwriting and production. And this is where the band’s strength lies. The album is a great listen from start to end. Gumbal does a great job of ensuring that there are no duds over the 7 tracks on here, and a big part of that is in the production. This album slaps. The band seems to pull from many different kinds of music, which shows in their choice of sounds. The rhythm section (comprising drummer Varoon Aiyer and bassist Satish Sridhar) is heavy and is as up front as the rest of the elements in the mix at times; there are shades of Karnivool in how everything floats on top but it is the bass that is doing the driving. There are also hints of some old-school 70s prog and some Tool-like time signature shenanigans (especially in a lot of the rhythm guitar). Siddarth Talwar pulls out some great melodic leads and some bangin’ riffs that give all the songs a bounce that makes them eminently accessible without sacrificing small detail. And on top of all that are Arjun Iyer’s vocals, which have that balance of power and cleanliness that makes a good prog voice. Considering the talent of the band’s members, it is so satisfying to hear such an impressive-sounding album.



The songs on ‘Armstrong’s List’ are also solidly written. Opener ‘Rocks Remember’ has the most memorable riff of the album; that first explosion of sound is one of the highlights of the listening experience. The chorus of the song is also one of the catchiest; the band finds ways throughout the album to keep things accessible even in tracks where sections are more musically complex. ‘Born Under The Second Law’ is where a bit of the prog-worship starts, but it is also helped along by a great hook and a crushing bassline. The guitars occupy a more textural role here, but they do a lot. The chorus section is busy and frantic with a bunch of harmonized vocals on top; another great moment. The instrumental section that rounds out the song, however, is a bit truncated. ‘Wonder And Wonder’ turns the energy back up with an incredible riff, more excellent bass and a vocal range in which Iyer sounds the most comfortable. ‘That Tiny Pea, Pretty And Blue’ is the most uppity song on here, and that’s partly a compliment. The way the track ebbs and flows is highly reminiscent of a more old-school prog band, but the jumpy rhythms and odd vocal melody are a bit off-putting. ‘The Eagle Has Landed’ is probably the most overt example of ‘Asymmetry’-era Karnivool worship on the album; again, not a problem. The bass  setting does a great job (again; I cannot stress how much work it does on the album) of setting up the track, and the song has some intricate parts to offset the more catchy elements. ‘Small Step’ and closer ‘A Finite Number Of Heartbeats’ are a bit lackluster in that they don’t bring new to the sonic palate of the album; both feature good riffs and vocals, but not too much more. In fact, if this album was simply a collection of songs (and it can definitely be listened to as such), it would go over amazingly. The only thing this ‘Armstrong’s List’ doesn’t quite get right is the idea of a concept album in itself.
Concept albums are so dicey. They require the band to toe a very fine line between the longform story they are trying to tell and the standard of songwriting they are trying to achieve. The reason why so many attempts fail is that one ends up overshadowing the other. ‘Armstrong’s List’ tells the story of Neil Armstrong’s journey to and from the moon; it is a distillation of his thoughts and appreciation of the incredibly rare thing he did. But that’s me saying that. Does it come across in the music? Not always. Gumbal uses a lot of radio transmissions and public recordings of the moon mission to help tell the story, but the 7 tracks themselves end up being crutches more than wings. But that taking nothing away from the fact it’s a fantastic album with good songwriting and some phenomenal production. And that should be enough for any band’s early releases. It sure should be enough for a band as musically solid as Gumbal.

Listen to Armstrong’s List



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