Music, as with all art forms, is a truly universal experience. We tend to forget this in the West, however. Certainly, the music I tend to listen to is very Eurocentric, with smatterings of American artists. Which is what makes it so refreshing and interesting to discover that one of my favourite genres has a growing global foothold. Post-rock isn’t a genre one would automatically associate with India. Ahmedabad-based aswekeepsearching intend to change that, however. Their latest offering Rooh is an excellent demonstration of how beautiful the genre can be, and even showcases the fact that post-rock bands shouldn’t be afraid of including vocals.
Theirs is an interesting, if not entirely unique, sound. Eschewing the lush and lengthy soundscapes of genre-forefathers Explosions in the Sky, aswekeepsearching cleave closer to God Is An Astronaut in terms of instrumentation, song length, and compositional framework. Mixing ambient synths with traditional stringed instruments and plaintive singing, they have created a gorgeous sound. At times, it’s as cinematic as Nordic Giants, and at others, it’s closer to God Is An Astronaut’s intimate emotional offerings. The GIAA-influence is obvious even in the opening moments of the lead track, “Chasing Light.” It’s a song name that wouldn’t be out of place on Age of the Fifth Sun, and the atmosphere built into the melody means the whole song could easily slot into the tracklisting of what I feel is GIAA’s best album. But then the vocals come in. Not many post-rock bands include singing, so it’s something of a bold choice. It’s far from a bad one, however.
Watch the official music video for the album’s title track:
Uddipan Sarmah’s voice is emotive, with something of a raw edge to it. This is particularly true on “Green and Blue,” my favourite track on the record. The layers of synth and guitar build behind it, reaching peaks of crescendo before dying back to build up again. It’s a powerful effect on its own, but Sarmah’s voice is what makes it so emotive. Reminiscent at times of Lee Douglas from prog masters Anathema, Sarmah’s voice crowns the gorgeous music his bandmates make, take “Aitbaar” and its emotive peaks and troughs as another fantastic example.
But it’s not just good vocals that make a band. Post-rock, on one very simple level, is the creation of atmospheric soundscapes, and aswekeepsearching do this superbly. Their compositions rely on synth programming for atmosphere, as well as the usual guitar reverb. Aswekeepsearching aren’t reinventing the wheel here. Genre boundaries aren’t really being pushed. Nudged at, but not seriously challenged. This is due to the use of both vocals and traditional Indian instrumentation, namely the sarangi, courtesy of Ustad Allarakha Kalawant. This stringed instrument is bowed like a cello, and adds a plaintive emotional depth to “Aas Paas.” But ultimately they’re not straying too far from the post-rock template. And that’s absolutely fine by me. The music they’re making is excellent. It’s safe, certainly, but it’s got emotional heft. It’s beautiful.
That emotional depth pervades the album as a whole. Rooh (pre-order on Bandcamp here) is a much more intimate affair than its predecessors. The group have stripped back the hefty layers of guitars in favour of atmospheric synths and reverbs, building and dying back and building and dying back behind the vocal melodies in quite a heart-breaking manner. In its intimacy, Rooh also feels mellower than its predecessors. The emotions in the lyrics and clean singing are given room to breathe. There’s no sound of anyone crying, unlike on Zia, but the stripped-back instrumentation really allows the emotional vocal melodies to shine.
“In Circles” off of the band’s debut album Khwaab acted as a huge building block to getting the band to where they are now:
And what lyrics! They’re all sung in Hindi, and they are beautiful poetry. Take “Green and Blue,” for example. The refrain of “My every breath is now connected to you” is a wonderful summation of the song’s theme of oneness with your friends, family, and nature. It never fails to give me chills when I listen to it. Elsewhere, on the title track, the lyrics reflect the fears of losing a loved one. “The joys found during these distances/Do not separate them from us.” There is always distance involved in grief, and it can feel at times as though finding new joy despite your loved one’s absence is a betrayal, a step on the path that separates you from them. But in reality, the ones we love would want for us to enjoy our lives to the full, regardless of whether they were involved.
Ultimately, although they’re not pushing the envelope in terms of the evolving post-rock landscape, aswekeepsearching bring serious emotional beauty to the fore on Rooh. It’s fabulous listening for anyone who wants to make their listening experience a more global flavour. If this is what India is going to bring the world stage in terms of post-rock, then sign me up for more.
Rooh Track Listing:
01. Chasing Light
02. Green and Blue
03. Aas Paas
04. Eneke Najaaba
06. A Night in Zottegem
Run Time: 34:00
Release Date: September 27, 2019
Record Label: Self-Released