You can (must) buy the album here. Samplers at the end of the review.
Agam presents a shorter, slicker version of their first ever song from eight years back – Brahma’s Dance – as opener. Radiating energy from the point the vedic chants kick it off, this is as good an opener as the album could get! The orchestration stays true to the “Carnatic rock” label of the band – while in the foreground there is the Carnatic violin going hand in hand with the electric guitar, the drums and ghatam are placed in a similar overlay in the backdrop – even as the song switches between ragas chakravakam (ahir bhairav) and valachi. And adding to the proceedings is Harish Sivaramakrishnan (who is also the violinist)’s sonorous delivery of those shlokas and taranas. Swathi Thirunaal’s Dhanashree Thillana is the next to get a makeover. While the rendition is spot on here too, the star of the song is guitarist Praveen, particularly with his classical renditions. That jugalbandi with Harish towards the end is the clincher! Everything worked for me except the dholak employment – been hearing those loops way too much in Bollywood, here too they seemed to impart the song a very filmy quality. Thankfully there is enough richness in the orchestration to make up for that. The sinister tone of the revathi (bairagi bhairav) raga makes Rudra a perfect candidate for a metal cover. This song is all about the guitars and percussion, some of those phrases are killer! The noise level does bother me; then again that is the reason I don’t listen to much metal.
The band then does an Avial style Malayalam folk rock fusion, a seemingly new composition called The Boat Song. As the name suggests it is modeled on the vallamkali songs, the lyrics employing a lot of the standard references. And a very Malayali sounding raga is chosen (aarabhi or shuddha saveri, never sure between these two), which Harish does a neat rendition of. Hat tip to Praveen for that second interlude, he just owns it! Only issue is that this song too bears a mild film song feel about it in places. Agam reproduces their Coke Studio song Malhar Jam in the album, but with some tweaks. The song is shorter, sarangi is out, there is a more prominent role for Swamy’s keyboard (that subtle hint of harmonium backing Harish’s tarana I really liked), and more improvs from Harish including another fab duel with Praveen. Annada Prasanna Pattanaik is part of this version too, with a shorter but equally impactful flute segment. The song of the soundtrack is Swans Of Saraswathi (hence named because of its raga hamsanaadham), the band’s intricate yet thoroughly engaging adaptation of the Thyagarajar composition Bantureethi. The song wins you over right during the 1.5 minute long prelude where Praveen and drummer Ganesh go wild with their classical ad libs and time signatures. It only gets better as the others join in; there is even an orchestral strings segment heard in places, but I would imagine that is synth-generated going by the credits. Neatly done, either way.
There are four other people I did not specifically mention in the review, but who also did a terrific job – Jagadish and Suraj on rhythm guitars, Shiva on percussion and Vignesh on bass. And bows to Ashish Manchanda for the mixing/mastering, the sound is just awesome.
Six long years since they were formed, Agam come out with their debut album. One hell of a debut album! Agam (The Inner Self) Awakens, indeed. Your turn now to awaken to Agam.