Review: Sulk Station - Till You Appear
3 April 2012
Bangalore based duo Rahul Giri and Tanvi Rao currently make up one of the country's most interesting contemporary acts, Sulk Station. Their debut album ‘Till You Appear’ is a brilliant specimen of trip-hop and downtempo, beautifully laced with Indian classical influences. Placed side by side with their more contemporary sounds it’s a listen that manages to create a despairing timelessness.
Sitting under garden eaves, headphones snug around my ears, staring at the disappearing winter as the tracks churn on repeat; the sound unfurls, constructing a dark, moonlit fortress around the mind.
The first track “Pause (Intro)” presents itself as a soft whisper holding back the expansive sea, crouched, waiting under foot to pounce and submerge. The muted beats, encased within a warm sphere of sonic amber delight as vocalist Tanvi Rao begins a haunting melody, a languid crooning drawing endless circles around the brain, walking silhouettes sidling past sleeping rooms through ill-lit corridors, all intertwined.
As it progresses one only sinks further into the night, propelled with delightful synths, crisp breaks and the shivering bass that sounds and feels at times like the bone-dry echo of faraway thunder. “Downlift” escalates with whirlwind force. There is a series of ascensions where the synths start screaming, reaching vertiginous peaks only for the bass to reverberate and restore the taut soundscape to its loose and woozy former self. As the vocals kick in again, the tension is almost lost, lingering only in the saline froth of the waves pulling away.
In an album that continually plunges and rises, one of the best and most delightful moments comes toward the end of “Contentment”. As the synths build up, rising like shadows falling on the bedside walls that are lit up by the slumbering streets, they form a head-bopping glitchy march-dance of a tune, punctuated by the resounding bass, perfect for those whisky soaked nights spent stoned, pacified into halted languid movements, dancing in reverse as the night leaves everything behind and in its place is just music and the ache.
Tanvi Rao effortlessly fuses two vastly different and distinct vocal styles, tying together the West with the East, injecting the warm melancholy and shadowy despair into her voice as she switches to Indian classical, singing age old lyrics and fragments amidst the thunder and clamor of the crackling bass. She demonstrates her vocal range and depth in Hindi/Urdu in songs like “Splendor” and “Bindya”, but the seamless transitional switch is best encountered in the gorgeous “Piya II”. It begins with the irrepressible power of a lilting dirge, creating a beautiful interplay of the astounding range of her voice with the tight assortment of carefully chosen beats. What emerges from this warm blend is pure delight. Her gilded vocals wavering in a dark room, dreary, with a little glitch around the edges and staccato beats that are littered with clicks, handclaps and a rapid crawling of synthesisers.
Even after playing the album on repeat for close to a week, I cannot seem to arrive at a favourite track. Every song is beautifully crafted and the album as a whole builds a small warm room lit by fire for you to vivify, under the canopy of the dark oppressive sky. Like a solitary home flashing in the dead of the night on some faraway hill, an elusive warmth fleetingly glanced at, half asleep during late night bus rides on narrow mountain roads rolling between momentary lilt and endless lassitude.
Words: Abhinava Bhattacharyya
*You can stream 'Till You Appear' in full here and Delhiites, Wild City is bringing Sulk Station over to celebrate their album launch on May 2. You know what to do.*