Are you a fan of Sigur Rós, 65daysofstatic, Mogwai, sleepmakeswaves, & God Is An Astronaut? Then India’s aswekeepsearching are the band for you!
Originally from Ahmedabad and now hailing from the city of Pune, aswekeepsearching may just be the world’s only Hindi post-rock band.
See, I don’t speak that language myself but I’m just sure there are some Hindi bands fitting a very similar genre description out there; just waiting for the wider world and the Internet to discover and take hold of them. Also, just in case you were wondering, aswekeepsearching aren’t the only Indian post-rock band active right now.
In fact, the Indian post-rock scene is a thriving one. For instance, there’s fellow Pune outfit A Mutual Question, Gurgaon’s one man army of Future Escape AKA Vaibhav Kattar, the more frequently mentioned act of Space Behind The Yellow Room, and Bangalore’s own heart-string tuggers Until We Last, to name but a few. Yet it’s the subjects of this article, however, who are the real cream of their nation’s crop for this genre. For while the Indian state of Karnataka and its capital of Bengaluru may have more or less become India’s prime spot for such music to cultivate, it’s Pune’s aswekeepsearching who claim the true mantle of post-rock kings in their native homeland.
Out of the many Indian groups that I listened to for my research into this band’s local “scene”, I found that aswekeepsearching simply does it better than any of their peers, and they prove this with their wondrous new epic, ‘Zia‘.
aswekeepsearching is made up of vocalist/guitarist Uddipan Sarmah, guitarist/keyboardist Shubham Gurung, punchy five-string bassist Bob Alex and expert drummer Gautam Deb. Now, those names will mean absolutely fucking nothing to any Australians here and other Westerners reading this. However, what does matter – more than anything – is the grand music that these four men create together.
Released via Flowers Blossom In The Space last month on April 28th, and following on from their 2014 debut EP ‘Growing Suspicions‘ and last year’s debut full-length ‘Khwaab’ – the Urdu/Pakistani word for “sleep/dream” – the quartet’s sophomore effort is as calming, as beautiful and as cinematic a record a band could ever hope to create.
As the four-piece have stated in their bio’s, their music is all about “expressing emotions, life experiences and feelings” and this mission statement is represented so well with ‘Zia‘. This record’s incredibly well-layered moulding of melodic guitar textures, spacious and reverberant ambience, subtle synths, bright keys, soft electronic percussion, traditional Indian instrumentation, emotive crescendoes, evocative timbres, well-used dynamics, and occasional yet always beautiful Indian vocal scales allows for aswekeepsearching’s brilliant soundscapes to truly come alive.
Now, while this is a mostly instrumental record, ‘Zia‘ does have a handful moments of actual singing, as mentioned above. Across these 11-tracks, either delicately poetic or driving, soaring vocals of Sarmah come forth from the band’s wall of sound post-rock, with all of his vocals being sung in traditional Hindi no less. (Fun fact: Hindi is actually one of the most common languages in the world, right up there with Spanish, Mandarin, and of course, English. The more you know). If you’re curious to see how this works together, seek out the vocal-heavy love song ‘Uns‘, the terrific album opener and tone-setter ‘And Then Came Spring‘, ‘Hope Unfolds‘, ‘Reminiscence‘, as well as the album standout, ‘Kalga‘.
Furthermore, at certain intervals on this second record, the group also makes fitting use of traditional Indian instruments. These come in the form of a wonderfully clean-sounding sitar joining the fray on the heavenly penultimate track, ‘Somewhere Sometime‘, performed by Rishabh Seen of the Indian classical-meets-prog-metal act, Mute The Saint. Elsewhere, traditional percussion moments of tabla drumming – performed by Ganesh Talkies‘ drummer Sambit Chatterjee – appear on ‘Sleep//Awake‘ (which really sounds like a lost sleepmakeswaves track or an old Collapse Under The Empire song) and similar drumming is heard later on during ‘Hope Unfolds‘.
It’s the way that aswekeepsearching bend and weave Hindi vocals, occasional traditional Indian instrumentation with their liberal use of electronics/synths and their typical but potent post-rock band approach that makes their music just so goddamn effective. It’s familiar sounding but deliciously fresh at the same time.
Even when you remove their geographical placing and their use of native instruments from the picture, you still have a mighty record by all accounts. For aswekeepsearching aren’t just a world-music or foreign gimmick; they’re the real deal.
The album’s stunning mid-point, the seven-minute long ‘Kalga‘, is actually named after a village in the Northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh that the band discovered once and is a place that they all quickly grew fond of writing and staying in. This song is basically a love letter for that particular village, and it’s one of the many highlights on ‘Zia‘ and my personal favourite. The use of live recordings of kids playing, of public announcements and of people chatting only adds to this song’s personal touch, as do the engrossing, intimate vocals, slow-burning pace, atmospheric instrumentation and fluttery guitars that surround it all. Right after my first listen, I was humming this song’s vocal melody back to myself for days on end!
The added violin found on the dream-like reverie of ‘Reminisce‘ – courtesy of Ajay Jayanti from the Anand Bhaskar Collective – is simply gorgeous, and the way this piece instrumentally explodes into an epic rush of uplifting harmonies, surging drumming and well-layered guitar work is utterly fantastic. It’s a grand composition that shows just how fucking good at songwriting this band is! So too does the lullaby-like nature of the peaceful ‘Hope Unfolds‘ (also inspired by the village of Kalga) acting as another great example of this band’s dynamic control and how their music can fully transport you into a whole other world. Oh, and this song, more than any other (bar the almost-proggy ‘Lights & Colours‘), shows off the utterly sweet yet gritty bass tone of bassist Bob Alex.
With ‘There You Are‘ showing aswekeepsearching’s heavier side with groovier, djent-like riff passages and with ‘Uns‘ having the most typical rock song approach of the whole bunch, one gets a nice break from their usual (but highly solid) post-rock schtick. Unlike the final song from previous LP ‘Khwaab‘ – ‘B-303‘ – this record ends on a much smoother, quieter, more relaxed note with the airy ‘Ascend‘; what with it being a droning, minimal ambient piece to round us out, and a good one at that. Hell, even the album’s sole interlude track, ‘A New Solace‘, is good. I mean, come on, you know that when a record’s interlude track – of all the bloody things – is solid, then the rest of the album usually is too. And that’s indeed the case here!
Seriously, aswekeepsearching are quickly becoming one of my all-time favourite post-rock acts with ‘Zia‘. And last year’s piano-ambient single, ‘At Long Last‘, and the below live T.V. performance of ‘In Circles‘ for Season 4 of Music Mojo only helps to cement my love for them even further.
Look, I implore you to push past the linguistical and geographical barriers here, as when you do, you will (hopefully) find not only one of the most serene and musically touching records of 2017 but also one of the world’s best-kept post-rock secrets.
Now, yes, we here in the West have countless post-rock acts to pick from – whether it be Explosions In The Sky, God Is An Astronaut, This Will Destroy You, sleepmakeswaves, We Lost The Sea or any number of other bands – but there’s nothing quite like aswekeepsearching.
So go and stream ‘Zia‘, you uncultured swine.
Also, yes, much like Australia’s own sleepmakeswaves, the ‘a’ in this band’s moniker is always lower case.