I first listened to Bit of Both’s Prequels & Sequels during a Monday morning Uber ride to work. The music’s insistent four-on-the-floor beat thumped in my ears as my Toyota crawled through Bangalore’s gungy arteries towards the anonymous glass towers that puncture the hazy, toxic skyline of Bellandur. Cocooned inside the album’s warm, viscous basslines, all I could think was, is this slick or what?
Outside the window I could see hundreds of cars just like mine carrying tired employees towards one of Bangalore’s many Special Economic Zones. In our muzzy pre-work haze, all of us built transient worlds inside the vehicles we occupied. A thousand pair of eyes stared into screens. Gigabytes of zeroes and ones were turned into sound and piped into ears that were only half listening. All of us floated wordlessly in a sea of words that, in a different time and place, might have held some vitality but, on this particular morning, were no more than cheap distractions. A long line of cars inched forward.
Prequels & Sequels ended just as my Uber pulled into the office compound I was supposed to visit that morning. Acoustic debris from the album’s carefully engineered soundscapes clung to the inside of my cranium as I waited for my appointment under the irate glare of fluorescent lights. All through the rest of the day, motifs from the album continued to assault me — as I navigated the cubicle-hemmed maze of the office I was visiting, as I endured three hours of meetings and paperwork and presentations, as I made tepid conversation with strangers around the coffee machine. Slick. It was all so goddamned slick.
Bit of Both consists of Ash Roy and Ashwin Mani Sharma, both veterans of the Indian electronic music scene and founders of electronica label Soupherb Records. Whether as solo artists or as part of the now defunct Jalebee Cartel, they’ve been rattling subwoofers in clubs across the world for nearly two decades. It stands to reason that, with that much experience behind the boards, any bit of music the duo puts out is guaranteed to be slick.
If only slick was enough. Prequels & Sequels is slick in the same way the elevator lobby of a real estate firm is slick. Flawless in its construction, but devoid of anything close to warmth or emotion. The musical equivalent of a day at the bank.
The opening tracks on the album — Round & Round with its sizzling synth-work and Indian Blues with its machine-gun bursts of tabla and syncopated vocal samples — make promises that the rest of the album fails to deliver on. The seven remaining tracks are not only forgettable, but also exhausting to listen to. At the end of the album’s sixty-two minute runtime, everything blends into a thick flavourless sludge that sticks to the palate and makes everything else taste bland.
Technically, the album is as well-engineered as one would expect from old hands such as Roy and Sharma. The percussion has a crisp punch to it that feels just right, the basslines are syrupy and satisfying, and repeated listens reveal hidden complexity in the detailed synth-driven soundscapes that are the highlight of the album. However, all the technical finesse fails to compensate for the record’s lack of inventiveness. Prequels & Sequels is a dense monolith of perfectly arranged sounds that satisfy neither the body nor the soul.