Soundtrack - Bombay the Hard Way: Guns, Cars, and Sitars (Motel Records, 210 E. 49th St., NYC 10017)
With the recent revival of soundtrack music from the 60's and 70's - from Ennio Morricone and the Peter-Thompson-Sound-Orchestra, to the proliferation of porn flick soundtrack compilations - it was inevitable that listeners were going to catch onto the wealth of soundtrack music generated by Bollywood during the same period. The people at Motel Records, responsible for the Vampiros Lesbos soundtrack album, have licensed the work of legendary Indian music directors Anandji V. Shah and Kalyanji V. Shah, the duo who were responsible for scoring up to 100 films a year at their peak. They've charged Dan Nakamura (The Automator of Dr. Octagon fame) with the task of producing the album.
The corny titles aside (like "The Good, the Bad and the Chutney", "Ganges A Go-Go" and "Fists of Curry"), Nakamura has done an admirable job. The music is, for the most part, left to stand on its own. Some "enhancements" have been make - like the addition of drum loops courtesy of Josh Davis (DJ Shadow) and some electronic instrumentation and samples to punch up the sound - but they're rarely obvious.
The tracks Nakamura has chosen to feature borrow heavily from spy themes, funk, and surf music highlighting the fact the Shah brothers were masters at co-opting western sounds. The bass line from "Fear of a Brown Planet" is lifted directly from The Saint theme. "Kundans Hideout" and "Punjabis, Pimps and Players" would not be out of place on a Shaft soundtrack. "Swami Safari" is essentially "Wipeout" with strings. "Ganges A Go-Go" is just plain kitsch - it sound like upscale garage rock with insipid English lyrics like "I got no time to think, because I need somebody to love, baby I love you so, but you can't love me more".
The tracks that work best are the ones that feature Nakamura and Shadow's signature beats along with classic Indian accompaniment. "My Guru" counters the melancholy feel of the sitar and flute riffs with a heavy hip hop beat. Similarly, "Inspector Jay from Delhi" and "Satchidanada" feature lush orchestras crossed with half speed breakbeats.
Bombay the Hard Way relies heavily on cheese factor and works best on that level. Some tracks manage to transcend this but lets face it, this is not meant to be a serious look at Bollywood soundtrack music. It's a fun listen and if it leads a few urban hipsters to explore Bollywood's rich history then all the better.
Black Star Liner - Bengali Bantam Youth Experience! (Warner Music UK)
Although they'll likely be lumped in with the likes of Talvin Singh and the Outcaste crew, the latest effort by Black Star Liner actually shares more in common with veterans Transglobal Underground and Suns of Arqa. Like these groups, Black Star Liner take a more laid back approach - you won't hear any spastic jungle beats on Bengali Bantam Youth Experience! - and tend to rely on an orchestra of synths and live instruments to carry their tracks.
While making heavy use of electronics and studio manipulation, Black Star Liner make an attempt to "humanize" their sound by including a wealth of organic sounds as well as a smattering of vocals. Most every track revolves around tabla's and sitars but Black Star Liner also utilize a healthy dose of synth strings and found sounds, with a hint of dub and electro influences in the production. The result is an album that is cinematic, sounding like a soundtrack for an unrealized film.
Although the individual components that make up the tracks on Bengali Bantam Youth Experience! are interesting in themselves, the mixture of sounds Black Star Liner have created don't come across as terribly interesting. The tracks are adequate, but rarely induce any superlatives beyond that (with the notable exception of "Low BMW" with its wacked-out distorto-vocals and "Gurdeeps Yellow Funk" featuring vocoder enhanced speech). Most of the tracks are lazy in that Sunday afternoon in August way and easy to digest.
There is nothing earth shattering going on with Black Star Liner. They offer up a fairly straightforward and competent take on this whole business of fusing western and eastern sounds. The problem is there is very little that is new or innovative here. I'm sure fans of so called "global music" will jump all over this record, but, with a few notable exceptions, this album left me feeling cold and uninspired.