Sid Vashi’s debut LP, Motherland Tourism, first hit the internet via SoundCloud and Bandcamp in September 2013. Having released little since, bar sporadic loosies and covers (including a fantastic version of Danny Glover), Vashi is on the verge of releasing a project this year which everyone should take very, very seriously.
However, if you go looking for some context to his latest output, keep your seriousness well away from his first full-length release. While there are moments of true genius on this record (Utilizer, Sit Around (Tere Bina)), there are also moments of utter wandering vacuity (You (I’m Alright), Tree). For evidence of this, look no further than the cover art, a painting of Vashi’s visage, itself a copy of an old photograph he’d often use as SoundCloud art, which now finds its final resting place on his LinkedIn profile. His sparse profile mostly concerns itself with his research as a student of neurology, and his work scoring a play at 2015’s Thespo Festival. His peers list “Microsoft Word” as his primary skill ahead of “Music Production” and “Live Music”.
Vashi is a polar opposite to most suburban Indian youth of his age, who lived their formative years in a period between the late ’80s and the mid ’90s when Indian film music reached its absolute zenith of glorious, extravagant camp. For anyone who didn’t grow up in India during this period, it’s hard to describe the euphoric nostalgia of A.R. Rehman and Anu Malik’s work that helped define it (think of 99 Luftballons, but in Hindi). Most of Vashi’s contemporaries grew up with this music as the soundtrack to their lives, only later evolving tastes and influences informed by the internet and economic liberalisation. Conversely, Vashi grew up playing jazz saxophone in Detroit, in the auditory arms of J Dilla, Karriem Riggins, Alice Coltrane and Milt Jackson. His musical influences are just like those of his contemporaries and primary audience, but geographically, and probably chronologically, reversed. It’s not a stretch to imagine movie scenes of urban India from that period (Ambassadors, Aamir Khan mullets and all) with MC Hammer playing in the background, but can you even begin to imagine ’90s suburban USA with the Rangeela soundtrack playing?
Channeling that reversed perspective is where Vashi truly excels on this LP. Sit Around (Tere Bina) floats effortlessly from a truly inspired R.D. Burman-Lata Mangeshkar sample, stuttering hi-hats, swirling two-step bass, a subtle Kendrick Lamar Poetic Justice sample, to saxophone interludes, to catchy refrains.
On Utilizer, he flexes an instantly iconic Anu Malik sample from the intro to Chalti Hai Kya 9 Se 12 that sounds like the auditory equivalent of every Govinda-Karisma Kapoor dance GIF you can remember (disclaimer: the source film Judwaa features neither) while keeping it all 100% serious — ambitious even. He frantically flits from his guitar to his saxophone and back over a punchy sawtooth bass, as if trying to pull out all possible stops at an interview for an internship with A.R. Rehman.
Darling, a simple but great drone-y table-driven ballad with no frills and pretensions is of note as well. A sequel, Darling 2.0 — featuring a new chromatic bass guitar refrain and a sub-shattering breakdown akin to James Blake’s Limit To Your Love — is now on his SoundCloud, presumably a part of his latest project.
Late in the album’s runtime Vashi lets loose, and the tracks grow blurrier in focus and sprawl inward, relying on pitched refrains and loops/samples to provide variation and structure, sometimes faintly betraying some obvious Dilla and Madlib influences in the process. Stones, featuring frequent collaborator Soopy, contains a vocal melody lifted seemingly directly, perhaps subconsciously, from Bon Iver’s Minnesota, WI but finds itself forgiven for having the gall to auto-tune Kishore Kumar into sounding like Young Thug.
The title, Motherland Tourism, becomes clearer as a descriptor for the album as it progresses from the exciting pulsating opener to deadpan ambient outro. This album is the sound of Vashi as a welcome outsider discovering the land of his descent — one where all the magical films that birthed the music which inspire his sound were made.
As he continues to release cuts from his latest project, it becomes obvious that he is intent on moving further away from the eclectic sounds of this LP towards a more focused, upbeat, glitch/electro-house sound. One of his latest releases, STAYLO, is longer than any track on this album, and is quite possibly his best work yet. The vocals are sharp and immediate. The harmonies, instead of functioning as a crutch for someone still trying to find their voice, sound purposeful. The drums crackle, and the mix feels sparser, louder, and more technically accomplished than anything he has released before. It even features the same Anu Malik sample from Utilizer, but its placement no longer feels warranted, hilarious, or fantastic, but sadly cursory. It’s possible that as he grows as an artist the links between his influences and art are growing further apart, and soon there may not be any obviously audible decadent era Bollywood influences left. But as an experiment with promising results, Motherland Tourism proves that Indian film music could still in theory retain its core ridiculousness and move forward with the times without being derivative and formulaic.
I wish you’d help.
Motherland Tourism is available as a free download on Bandcamp.