Albums Of The Year
Grand Tapestry – Grand Tapestry
Despite being a recent project, Grand Tapestry’s roots can be traced as far back as the early 20th century when founding member, Alam Khan’s grandfather taught classical Indian music in the Maihar gharana (North Hindustani music school) to the likes of Ravi Shankar and Alam’s father, Ali Akbar Khan. This school and the Khan family have since been the most instrumental element in bringing Indian music to the ‘west’, and today Alam Khan carries this torch by co-running Ali Akbar College of music with his family in California, playing the Sarod at a guru level and now, realigning this ethnic music with the contemporary urban element.
In our conversation, Alam told me that growing up in California and living his dual pursuit of classical Indian music on one hand, playing in grunge bands as a teen and growing up with hip-hop on the other eventually brought him to this fusion of influences at this stage of his life. Already being an internationally accomplished artist, it comes as no surprise that he was joined with West Coast independent hip-hop legend, Eligh (of Living Legends), and Afghan-origin tabla virtuoso, Salar Nader to form the experiment, Grand Tapestry.
Alam insisted that Grand Tapestry is not ‘just about making world fusion music’ and Grand Tapestry’s aesthetic really boils down to soulful sound exploration in a way that converges their individual expression. This is felt in the album with brilliant call and response moments between the three members, brilliant lyrics from Eligh, and instrumental mastery. Tracks like Seven explore the seriously experimental corner of music with odd-time signatures and seemless rapping on top, while Dharma Punks echoes that hybrid distorted Seattle / India feel, and Champion brings the anthemic conscious goodness.
Major credit should be given to Eligh for the content of his poetry, covering a range of topics like the human condition, universal concepts and consciousness as a whole. This is truly devotional urban mysticism and it’s no wonder that when asked to choose one line from the album, Eligh’s response was: “music is the way to god”. Here is an excerpt from the lyrics to Atma:
“This art will attract light” like breath to a bag pipe,
battery to a Mag-light, buckle down hold tight,
ride of a lifetime, line after line, rhyme after rhyme, sign that the
time is now upon us,
not a pawn or a polyp,
we the kings and the callers,
we the queens and the ballers,
read the screen play then holler,
in my direction with solace,
meditative and hollow,
filled with universe prana..
When asked about future plans for the group, Alam breaks it down that the experiment will go on as long as it is feasible to do so. Grand Tapestry is a fully independent project and it intends to remain so, but if the unique atmosphere of videos from the band’s live performances is anything to go by, we only hope that the project continues to evolve and bring this master class of world fusion music to the world.
Globular – Holobiont
Holobiont, Globular’s heavyweight psydub / atmospheric release truly stood the test of time this year as I found myself continuously ‘using’ the music to enhance my mood in different situations throughout the year. Musically, the album’s intricately detailed melodies, organic soundscape, dub-driven force, and brilliant continuity make it an undisputed audible joy. Holobiont is an incremental and steady progression in Globular’s classic psydub sound and it is testament to how re-calibrating the OG sound for the current day can still have an impact, superior to tech-jerky futurespective counterparts.
Your music often has a highly atmospheric and almost cinematic feel. What do you count as the main inspirations in your creative process?
Hi! Thanks for the attention, I’m always flattered *blushes*
It’s hard to say to be honest. I’d love to give a deep and meaningful answer here, but I don’t have an esoteric or deep enlightened process for coming up with sounds or themes or whatever. It’s really as simple as striving to make something that gives me a reaction. Something that makes me want to dance around my bedroom, I mean studio… Or makes me trip out and feel like a teenager discovering ambient dub for the first time again. I have no idea where it comes from, and I don’t search out sources of inspiration either. I think it would be fair to say that I’m massively inspired by other awesome music (…), but I try not to use that as a direct inspiration, more as means to spur myself on. But you know, everything is awesome, everything is inspiring, depending on how you [chose to] see the world around you. So I just soak it up and let my subconscious do the filtering.
You have a knack for dank album and song titles. Is it an active search for titles or do they just come to you?
Haha thanks! Not active per se, but I do keep an extensive list on my phone of funny ideas, spoonerisms, random science-y things and just cool phrases that sound even cooler completely out of context. They definitely don’t just come to me, and most of the time a song name bears only minimal relevance to the actual music, though there’s a few notable exceptions, but I‘ll leave that to you guys to figure out…
Since this is chosen as an ‘album’ of the year and that generally entails a sense of continuity between the tracks, what do you consider to be the binding elements of the songs?
Honestly, in reality it’s the quality of the tracks. Usually an album for me is a collection of the best songs I’ve managed to write in a given period. Which then necessitates reworking interludes and intros/outtros to weave it into a complete piece, and to go over tracks trying to get the mixes to stick together. But by and large that’s how it happens. I write tonnes of crap, but you know when you’re on to something special, and generally I’ll keep the special ones back until I have 5 or 6, and then spend a bit of time working out what it would be missing if I were to make them into an album. Then I know the rough direction I need to take for the next few special tracks that materialise. I’m really not a natuarally consistent producer, so sitting down to write an album isn’t a useful endeavour for me. My approach seems to have worked so far though, so I’m not going to start messing with it if I can help it. But to be honestly the continuity aspect isn’t something I pride myself on, usually seems pretty messy to me. But I’m glad you don’t agree.
Finally, can we please have a line or two of your most globulistic inspirational thoughts?
Wow that’s a big one. I don’t really have any inspirational thoughts, but you’re welcome to some weird and groovy sounds?
Drumspyder – The Mother Rune
Drumspyder is one of those hyper-productive artists who has perfected the balance of output and quality. Year in, year out, the dude effortlessly creates signature percussion-ridden midtempo world delights, plays them out with various dance crews at copious amount of festivals, and incrementally upgrades his sound to fit the overall progression of the musical current. Mother Rune, his latest album fits our Best Of bill for its crispy and translucent mix and mastering, premium Oakland flavour, sheer instrumentality, effortless style and instantly recognizable Drumspyder sound.
Q. Assuming from your live videos, artist name and tracks, you play your percussions for your music. To what extent are the other instruments in the songs original recordings?
A. Most of the instrumental parts are either virtual instruments – parts I compose myself and play with Ableton’s Sampler, or recordings of my own acoustic instruments. The latter especially is the direction I’m moving in, and I’m working on the skills to bring more original acoustic instrument parts into the mix. “Weofod”, “Strands of the Web” and “Masked Dance” have no samples; they are made entirely of my own parts.
Q. Is there a signature Oakland sound and do you consider your music to be a part of it?
A. I don’t identify closely with any particular electronic sound or genre, but in a more general way, my music owes a lot to the vitality of global music fusion which has been going on for a long time in the Bay area. When I started playing hand percussion I the fortune to be introduced to it by local players who are on a very high level, and there are so many of these amazing musicians around here — people who play traditional musical styles and instruments with a high degree of skill and integrity.
Q. You have mentioned that your music is most importantly about the ancient relationship between the drums and the dancer. Can you elaborate on that?
A. Playing drums live , either for a dancer on stage or for the dance floor, has always been at the center of my music – thats what really inspires me. In their essence, drumming and dancing are not very different ; they are both forms of musical and rhythmic movement where the spirit takes on a manifestation in time and physical embodiment.
Q. You always have a degree of visual stimuli (generally, beautiful belly dancing women) in your shows. Are these elements present in your song writing process or just for live shows?
A. I don’t work with dancers in the studio when creating tracks, but often I have in mind a style of movement, and sometimes a particular dancer’s style, for a particular piece. Then there is the really magical part of the process, which is bringing it out to dancers and seeing what they do with it in a live situation. Recently I’ve been working with a dance group from the southwest US called Auric Medicine , who have done choreographies and improv solos to many of my pieces. It’s really inspiring to see how they pick up on the energy that I put into the music, but bring their own energies, personalities and dance backgrounds into it as well, often bringing out totally new and surprising aspects to a piece. We have captured some of this on video, and a complete rendition of “Weofod” was shot in southern California – to be released later on this year!
Q. Finally, what qualities do you think make a good album?
Qualities which I aspire to … but I can’t say I’ve attained yet! Great songs, great rhythms and drumming. Music which inspires listener for their next dance, or their next step in life.
Compilation of the Year
Aquatic Collective – Standing With The Waters
Aquatic Collective’s mega-compilation which was released as a fundraiser for the Standing Rock NoDAPL campaign proved to be an incredibly powerful show of support from the psychedelic bass scene to this vital current socio-environmental issue. Furthermore, the music matched the album’s social value with amazing contributions from veteran and newcomer producers, often involving natural, tribal and roots-based elements. Thus, the compilation won this blog’s heart for quality, quantity, and mission statement. We tried to set up an interview to ask about the details of how the fundraising went, but have not received any response yet. We will update this article as soon as the information is ready.