Music

Music for a connected age

Donn Bhat’s new album captures the present state of the human condition: one that’s constantly changing, for better or worse

The past weekend saw the release of yet another fine record of Indian artistry. But before we probe further, it might be judicious to stop referring to our home-grown music — something that is and has been decidedly worldly of-late — as simply ‘Indian'. Not that ‘Indian’ is necessarily less well-off or not-as-good-as foreign, but the catch-all ‘Indian’ label today really does not equate to its now far-off cousin ‘desi’. And labels like ‘Indian rock’ and ‘Indian EDM’ have only pushed anglicised audiences toward using a sliding scale while judging quality, or worse, deciding whether they are worth listening to at all.

India’s musicians now look at their Western contemporaries as fair game in a competitive, global musical landscape. Therefore, the pigeonholing, and hence the sneaky, subliminal devaluation of their art, must end. Theirs indeed are the voices we need more than we realise or tend to admit.

Ears and an open mind

Music today can be a vital source of knowledge, of information and insight, an elemental tool for self-discovery and perhaps even a crucial agent of change. We owe our music the chance to prove itself as such, as a potential salve for the human condition. And all that it really demands of you, the listener, is a set of ears and an open mind.

Connected is the new album by Anant Donn Bhat under the name Donn Bhat + Passenger Revelator. The effort comes a decade after his debut solo album One Way Circle, post which there was 2014’s Passenger Revelator. The music composer, producer, songwriter and guitarist is based out Mumbai after moving from Delhi after his debut album. He’s previously played with bands like Friday the 13th and Orange Street before going solo.

The new record released online alongside a campaign that repurposed the imagery of people plugged into electronic devices, particularly one rather indispensable appendage: the smartphone. With a theme surrounding this method of ‘connectedness’ laid out bare, Bhat paints a musical portrait that is more than pleasing.

Fateful reunion

The album runs from delicate, soundscape-oriented pop to near-overt protest music, and through its 30-minute runtime, packs in plenty of songwriting craft. The lion’s share of the album sees Bhat team up with frequent collaborator Ashhar Farooqui, better known as Toymob, one of a few certifiably experimental, mixed-media artistes in the country. This fateful reunion, running on the steam of two consistent years of performing alongside each other, has allowed Bhat to turn the page on his critically-acclaimed 2014 album Passenger Revelator and script a brand-new chapter in music.

Farooqui lends a shaken voice of reason to great effect, balancing out Bhat’s reticent guitar playing style. This is easily evident on the opening triad of Connected. ‘XXL’ begins with dreamy swirls and playful guitar licks that give way to Toymob’s sunken vocals. From the very beginning, Bhat’s careful approach to composition stands out. “For me, the production process has become easier,” Bhat admits. “The last album was far more difficult for me to produce. This time, I feel we’ve achieved a lot more by doing a little less.” The stark production on Connected shall not be mistaken for minimalism. Aiding it along, Farooqui and Bhat punctuate the spaces between five of Connected’s seven songs admirably.

‘2000 Years’ sees Bhat on microphone duties pulling out the album’s certified ear-worm, eerily reminiscent of a crooning Bryan Ferry juxtaposed with the staying power of “that Chris Isaak hit which shan’t be named”. On to the skinnier end, ‘The Beer Was Over’ starts as a melancholic electronic ballad, its mournful lyrics tugging at the heart. A quiet beginning is soon offset by a jagged ending with repetitive chants of ‘the beer was over, your friends are over, this song is over’.

Toymob’s spoken-word verse illuminates ‘Desh Bhakti’, a midnight raid of an album closer, one that Bhatt insists is not overtly political but rather a commentary on the human condition. Its fading chants in Hindi cap off two years of Bhat’s work.

After the culmination of a country-wide tour beginning tonight — and possibly hitting some smaller towns in November — a question remains: what is next? “I’m going to take a month-long break,” says Bhat, “to hopefully find inspiration.”

Today, as humans, we’re virtually inseparable from technology. We celebrate our increasing levels of comfort with it, but also continue to condone what is a potentially dangerous co-dependence. This tumultuous relationship between inter-connectedness and outer-connectivity unfolds like a magnificent dream that threatens to go bad at any moment. It’s a stern reminder that nothing really commands a permanent place in a constantly-evolving world. Donn Bhat’s Connected explores this notion in as much detail as a 30-minute, left-field pop album can allow, and it does it damn well. Romantic, interminably sad and achingly real in equal measure, it’s music for the ages, without a doubt.

The author is a freelance writer

Donn Bhat + Passenger Revelator will perform with M.MAT and Bitmap as part of AntiSocial’s monthly electronic gig FRWD this evening at 9 p.m. Entry: Rs. 300.

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Printable version | Feb 19, 2020 4:13:58 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/music/Music-for-a-connected-age/article15427815.ece

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