The Bicycle Days’ debut release is a clear departure from their previous sound. Calamitunes proves to be a new direction for the band, but one with similar road-sings.
Weekender 2010 was the first time I saw The Bicycle Days (TBD) live. It was the debut year of the festival and I was pleased with the student-friendly ticket price. With the opportunity to watch nearly 50 Indian bands (including Zero) spread over three days, one couldn’t complain. TBD was slotted at the Hard Rock Cafe stage at the festival. Finally, it was time to hear stuff from 42, the band’s debut EP, live. The band played a great set; negligible banter and zero stage antics. I remember the guitarist (Rahul Ranganath) being unperturbed by the various n00bs in the audience reacting to the delay pedals in use by the customary \m/ hand-sign. He hid under his hoodie, unfazed.
Weekender served as the initial litmus test. But after the festival, the band gradually slipped into hibernation. With the band’s focus shifting towards working on the debut LP, gigs were sparse. Passing time saw the inclusion of Ramanan Chandramouli (ex-Blind Image axe-man) and Abhishek ‘Shakenbake’ (yes, the Holy Stoked dude) replacing previous members of the band Paul Dharmaraj (bass) and Nikhil Narendra (samples).
42 was released in 2010. TBD have made heavy sonic alterations since they played their first gig at Strawberry Fields (they were runners up). They join the long ranks of rock bands who’ve embraced technology and the use of sound synthesizing software. Pentagram did it in 2002. Medusa had to rename themselves Sky Rabbit in 2011 as they took to a new direction and most recently, I saw The F16s from Chennai carry out a dedicated dubstep segment in one of their songs.
New material was previewed on a terrace in Bangalore as a part of the Chaiwala Sessions, but it was acoustic. A few months into the new year, ‘Hush’ was previewed. Well, a glimpse of it was. With an outright “work-in-progress” sign, this proved to be the clearest and most definitive indication of The Bicycle Days’ new sound. A trudge through minimal atmospheric electronica, guided by frontman Karthik Basker’s calm vocals – “To embrace and give way / You helped me learn / Now let me unlearn / ’cause I’ve had my fill”. This preview tore down all preconceived notions clouding the sonic expectations of the new record.
The Bicycle Days have buffered the blow of a complete makeover in sound on their debut album Calamitunes; remnants of 42 visible, a progression in sound evident.
Basker’s vocals lumber through a minimal soundscape on first single ‘Crawl (The Human Experience)’ (check out the video). ‘Hush’ is cut from the same cloth. And ‘Escape’ too follows suit (with the exception of an interesting guitar-hi-hat-bass section, two-and-a-half minutes into the song). Moving away from this new soundscape, more heavier and drowning guitar tones are introduced with ‘Conundrum’ and a reworked version of ‘Circles’, titled ‘Circles (Information =/= experience)’ reinforces this evident evolution in sound on the record. Apart from the synthesized tracks, TBD’s music borders on the circumference of alternative psychedelic music. Laced with spots of psychedelia, the tracks on Calamitunes come across as well-constructed arrangements all shaped by the whims of each individual band member. The songs move from one tranquillizing note to another, weaved together with sampling and the band’s new muse; electronic soundscapes. The highly cinematic ‘Indignation’ with a sneering ‘good-joke’ sample heard towards the end reinforces this newfound love.
However, The Bicycle Days wean off the heavy stuff towards the end of the LP. Having touched both spectrums (electronic atmospheric sounds vs drowning guitar tones), both ‘Moulds’ and ‘Truce’ appear to be poems as the musical compositions simply provide a safety net to Basker’s chants. The most minimalistic of the lot, ‘Moulds’ is just two minutes of electronic fiddling. “There’s a need to talk / to each other / open the gate /communicate” are the opening lines and as a near stagnant mood is set at the onset, the boundaries of minimalism are pushed.
Calamitunes is a result of the classic trial-and-error method. With an EP to their credit, The Bicycle Days still don’t write crowd-friendly choruses, expecting the audience to sing along at gigs. The song arrangements are precise and a song may touch two extremities while cued. On record, the breakdowns and wall-of-sound created by the music overpower the vocals, but as an entire package it comes off as an odyssey of what the band has experienced and imbibed, during their course as musicians. And for a band that’s constantly evolving, there’s no better way to write a debut album.
PS. ‘Conundrum’ was incorrectly called the album opener in this review. As pointed out in the comments below, the album opener is ‘Vicious’. Our bad.