Music

Songs of sunsets and giant robots in the sky

After much reworking, composer and producer Aniruddh Menon releases his stunning new album Lovesongs, heavily dosed with samples

Just a brief conversation with Aniruddh Menon reveals that he’s measured in his tone and thoughtful with his words. Really, he just seems apologetic that he has to talk about himself. “Skype sucks,” he says after the connection is lost for a second time. He’s all the way in Dubai and I’m in Mumbai. So technology, shaky as it can be, comes to our rescue, preventing a mild coronary at the sight of post-international-call phone bills.

The self-assurance and comfort with which he talks about his approach to writing music seems, at times, to have been arrived upon after a great deal of inner conflict. As if Menon has spent time trying to understand who he is, who he wants to be, what drives him, and what slows him down.

Menon’s apparent personality traits matter because of the effortlessness of his music and how much of Aniruddh Menon exists within the sounds he creates and manipulates. His new album Lovesongs, which came out last month, is an exquisite arrangement of nine songs, electronic and largely lo-fi in nature, with considerable use of samples.

A tortured spirit

The 23-year-old is a part of Machli, the on-hiatus experimental, electronic group from Bangalore. Menon has also been writing his own music for a while now. Lovesongs is his second release, with some of the songs being as old as four years. He’s toiled a great deal over this music, reworking and rearranging it over time, plagued by self-doubt repeatedly. “I think, with this album, it was a bit tortured,” he says. “I was by myself. With a band [Machli], there’s always a bunch of people telling you what works, what doesn’t. You use that as the baseline.” He would use open-ended compositions with Machli, saving the more defined, involved pieces he wrote for his solo material, since there was less space for other musicians to play around with it. “The point when I decided to stop changing things is when I realised it was my insecurities and my self-doubt. I think I tend to overdo it sometimes; I hate it when it gets to the point where it’s my insecurities dictating whether I should change a song or not — it wasn’t necessarily making the songs better.”

Lovesongs is almost pastoral in its sensibility, floral in a way. It’s also transparent in its honesty; downtempo in form, with a strong emphasis on warm, swaying, shivering melodies coloured by fluid synths. There’s an undercurrent of melancholy and a wandering minstrel sort of curiosity in the drifting beats. It features plenty of collaborations, including Disco Puppet, Ustad Kitty, Benkii, and his Machli bandmate Pardafash. Menon isn’t really a controlling taskmaster when it comes to working with other musicians.

A case of sampling

Menon has paid a great deal of attention to the sampling. They are all personal in nature, placed to dictate the direction of the song and its underlying motif. He looks at samples not as colourful placeholders or gimmicks, but as elements within a song, giving it direction. “I use samples for a number of different reasons. In terms of the texture, there’s grit to taking a sound from a different place and repurposing it. You can’t get that any other way. It’s not even what the musician is saying or playing; it’s the quality of the sound you want.”

When Menon uses a sample, he’s evoking a mood, focusing on retaining its context. While he may manipulate a little, its essence is never completely gone. “[Similar to] how a flag is not just a piece of cloth, a sample is not just a bit of sound. It depends on the artiste how they want to use it. They are a tool, not the main part of a song. The songs are my explorations, my ideas, and these are tools I’ve used to get there.”

Take ‘Morning Rituals’ for instance. Menon has sampled M.S. Subbulakshmi’s ‘Sri Venkateswara Suprabhatham’, which is significantly personal to him. “I remember my mum playing a cassette of that in Kochi.” It was a different version, but he decided to incorporate that in a song. He’d shelved it at first, since he didn’t want to offend anyone by using a prayer. But eventually, he thought better of it. “If I don’t remix my history, other people will.”

This brings to life a theme that Menon visits often: one of longing and yearning. He acknowledges how Lovesongs is far more melancholy than his earlier music, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that he completed the album while in Dubai. The young musician is currently based there, although he has spent time in Bangalore as well, and plans to return to India at some point this year. “I miss India. Sometimes, I don’t like Dubai as much. I think a lot of that came into the album emotionally.” It’s not exactly nostalgia, as the album notes are quick to point, but what you hear is reflective and tender, affecting without being manupulative.

The aftermath

He doesn’t say it in so many words, but Lovesongs seems to have taken a toll on Menon. He has laid bare a part of himself, and in a way, he’s still reeling from that. So it’s understandable that he is far more comfortable and enthusiastic discussing Machli — “If I came up with an idea and expected them to add X to it, they’d just flip it on their head” — and how the band intends to get back together at some point, although there’s no plan in place yet. And Menon isn’t as comfortable as he’d probably like talking about the role played by Consolidate (the Bangalore-based label on which Lovesongs has been released) or its founder Rahul Giri (of Sulk Station) in shaping the album, in terms of intangible support as well as feedback and advice on the production.

For now, Menon is working on getting a live set ready, which should be exciting enough, since he’s never played alone on stage before. And, just for emphasis, he says he’s in no mood to write new music just yet.

Listen to Lovesongs at soundcloud.com/consolidate/sets/aniruddh-menon-lovesongs

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Printable version | Mar 23, 2020 9:41:12 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/music/Songs-of-sunsets-and-giant-robots-in-the-sky/article17308265.ece

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