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Nitin Sawhney - London Undersound

Nitin Sawhney, London Undersound

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

NITIN Sawhney smply doesn’t make bad albums. London Undersound, his latest, may contain some controversial elements and observations, but it’s never less than an enthralling listen that showcases some incredible talent and a lot of thought-provoking sentiment.

Sawhney himself describes it as “a collection of thoughts, ideas, feelings and catharsis in a city of immense diversity, imagination and beliefs”.

His selection of artists pretty much exemplifies this. Sir Paul McCartney, for instance, rubs shoulders with the likes of Natty, Imogen Heap, Ojos de Brujo and Aruba Red. It makes for a rich, often fulflilling listen – sometimes emotive, often beautiful, but always carefully considered no matter what you might think of it.

Sawhney continues: “Every day is full of representations – from politicians, the media and the power of rumour. From bizarre justifications for war to issues of race, nationality, religion and cultural identity, we are saturated constantly with information and second-hand opinion.”

He continues: “On 7/7/2005, a bomb exploded on a London bus. A singer and friend of mine, Natty, was there. Two weeks later, he was present at the shooting of a Brazilian man – Jean Charles de Menezes. Last year, we wrote a song together. Natty, like myself, feels something indefinable has shifted. London’s heartbeat has changed…”

It’s this song that opens proceedings. Entitled Days of Fire, it finds the album at its most provocative. Set against a deceptively upbeat rhythm, that’s designed to reflect the movement of a train, Natty recounts his personal experiences of being caught in the aftermath of the killing of de Menezes. With lyrics including “it could have been me” and “now I’ve seen a city change in oh so many ways since the days of fire”, it’s sure to stir emotion. But it’s far from preachy or judgemental, merely reflective of a defining moment in London’s history.

It’s followed by something more soothing, October Daze, featuring Tina Grace… and a really classic piece of chillout. Inspired by a drowsy wasp flying around in October, it’s an example of the album at its most beautiful, complete with slick beats and strings.

Imogen Heap’s oh-so distinct vocals enliven Bring It Home, a drum n bass track sporting an unusual 6/8 time signature, that bravely advocates “anything is possible”.

McCartney crops up on another highlight, My Soul, a frustrated love song that was recorded at Sawhney’s Wandsworth home on the day that the ex-Beatle was photographed seeing someone in America. McCartney sounds very different – his vocals more fragile than normal, but backed by some genuinely enchanting instrumentation and an Eastern female backing vocal.

Distant Dreams, featuring Brit school graduate Roxanne Tatei, considers the distant holiday dreams of people stuck on the Tube and is backed by some romantic strings and a fine trumpet from Cuban performer Carlitos, who lends it a mariachi feel.

Thereafter, the highlights keep on coming with only the odd moment failing to register as emphatically. Shadowland is a piece of world music that’s intricately layered and featuring a soothing vocal from Ojos de Brujo, while Faheem Mazhar brings a sense of Africa to Daybreak, which boasts another addictive rhythm that defies easy pigeon-holing.

Transmission, meanwhile, finds Tina Grace returning on the sort of track that would make Massive Attack proud – even though it’s probably one of the less impressive offerings.

Last Train To Midnight, meanwhile, is another that’s prone to being a little too repetitive, and which fails to capture the imagination as much as the album’s best moments. But Sawhney makes sure to end the album with two humdingers – the instrumental Firmament, a tender, heartbreaking acoustic-based piece that’s achingly beautiful, and Charu Keshi Rain, which ends things on an Indian-influenced note of similarly soothing beauty.

It’s fair to say that Sawhney has achieved and even surpassed his goals with London Undersound and crafted an album that’s relevant to everyone. It’s another great achievement from this immensely talented performer.

Download picks: Firmament, Days Of Fire, October Daze, My Soul, Daybreak, Distant Dreams

Track listing:

  1. Days Of Fire feat. Natty
  2. October Daze feat. Tina Grace
  3. Bring It Home feat. Imogen Heap
  4. Interlude 1 – Ghost Image
  5. My Soul feat. Paul McCartney
  6. Interlude 2 – Soledad
  7. Distant Dreams feat. Roxanne Tataei
  8. Interlude 3 – Street Sounds
  9. Shadowland feat. Ojos De Brujo
  10. Daybreak feat. Faheem Mazhar
  11. Interlude 4 – Identity
  12. Ek Jaan feat. Reena Bhardwaj
  13. Transmission feat. Tina Grace
  14. Interlude 5 – Tension
  15. Last Train To Midnight feat. Aruba Red
  16. Interlude 6 – Ronald Gray
  17. Firmament
  18. Charu Keshi Rain feat. Anoushka Shankar

  1. No, Nitin has never made a bad album. They just keep getting better. Nice acknowledgement.

    Sanjeev    Oct 17    #
  2. Awful album.

    Brian    Oct 23    #