'World Falling Down' EP by Satsangi
I reviewed (back in November) the most recent single from Satsangi, "World Falling Down" and mentioned a little bit at that time about their collaborative cross media project for which it is the title track.
Today sees the release of a fuller collection from the project, including the single, but adding three extra tracks "The Storm In My Eyes", "Blackbird" and "My Regeneration".
As you already know, the focus of the project is the Coventry Dresden Friendship Festival and so the last mentioned track is a collaboration between the band and Dresden based band Søjus1.
In addition, Satsangi have involved Leamington's own Shanade Morrow in what they have been crafting & she brings not just her vocal talents but her sensibilities to the collection.
As you might expect from the subject of the project, poignancy informs each song, regardless of its other sonic identities. Listening to these songs in a week when war has returned to Eastern Europe, re-engulfing cities which feature on all those old maps of World War Two campaigns, the songs gain even more meaning & force than when they wrote them. Like Wilfred Owen their ".. subject is War and the Pity of War. The poetry is in the pity".
And indeed the compass of this music aims far beyond the specific: the lyrics (by Sujatha Menon) speak of conflicts past & present, wars far off in time & place & beyond our experiences or comprehensions.
As the band themselves state "...the music, lyrics and imagery reflect the uncertain times we are living through in what is being termed the ‘post-truth' age, with social conflict and disputation spreading across many aspects of life, including the effects on individuals and communities of the pandemic, the effects and pressures brought about by the climate change emergency, and the emergence of extreme political attitudes, such as the Far Right in the United Kingdom and in Europe."
And despite the unpleasant forces which brought these songs to life, there is a profound beauty generated by the music: timeless in its applicability to human frailty & cruelties. If Satsangi's own music with its fusion of eastern & western traditions reminds us that death & destruction is not a monopoly of Europe, then the startling input of Søjus1 adds an apocalyptic vision from Mitteleuropa which evokes both the blood soaked lands so frequently crossed by forces of destruction bringing genocide in their wake but also the heavy industrial legacy of the region. The alienated intonations of "My Regeneration" offer a startling contrast & complement to the three other songs & quite rightly leaves the future hanging in the air uncertainly.
Again as they say themselves, the songs represent "..a reaction to a changing world. Through our music, videos and Sujatha Menon's words, our aim is to create an alternative space in which to reflect on the social - political upheaval caused by the personal and collective challenges that face us today." And no one is kidding themselves that the process of change is complete nor the challenges resolved.
If the title track aims to awaken consciences, then the mighty "Storm In My Eyes" (which has already featured on "BBC Introducing for Coventry & Warwickshire") is perhaps the most potent of the songs in terms of sitting in a musical landscape which is familiar to Satsangi fans and is up there with their finest work, though this time adding a much more orchestral sound to what we are used to. "Blackbird" too fits into the canon neatly, being melodic and humane & the lightest touch of the four tracks, yet don't mistake lightness of feel for the same in sincerity or philosophy.. the transition to "My Regeneration" is thus a startling one & if we got seduced by "Blackbird" then we rudely awakened into the harsh realities of life.
These are strange times for Satsangi and there can be little doubt that whatever plans they had for development after 2018's superb ‘You Saw Something' album, those had to be binned. Yet the last two years have seen some interesting releases including trips back into their own catalogue & stripped back home recordings.
‘World Falling Down' is clearly central to their beliefs & values & a very significant release which has definitely moved them on: albeit not perhaps where they thought they were going back in 2019. They really have made a great virtue out of the challenges they faced and whether this marks a detour in their journey or the first steps along a new road, who can tell? It would be great if at least some of these songs could feature in their next live set (which I look forwards to), though I appreciate the difficulties in reproducing them all as you hear them in their splendour on the record.
Look out too for the visual aspects of the project, courtesy of long time collaborator, Paul Windridge.
"World Falling Down" by Satsangi
Fresh out from Satsangi is "World Falling Down", (their first since they raided their own vaults for the "Don't Want Anything But More" single back in January) the title track from their collaborative cross media project which includes music, film and poetry. This in turn is a significant element in the Coventry Dresden Friendship Festival, an initiative which strikes hard into the heart of this writer due to his family history. Within this framework, they are collaborating with fellow "Hot Music Live Presents" artist Shanade at the British end, and through the wonders of technology, Dresden band Søjus1.
While "World Falling Down" is the first release of the project, you may have already heard "The Storm in My Eyes" on BBC Coventry & Warwickshire on Thursday, played by Letitia George (sitting in for Brody Swain). This track features Shanade & Johnny Satsangi talked a little about the project on this occasion. There was also a launch event at the Litten Tree in Coventry yesterday.
â€‹And so naturally (if a little belatedly) to the song itself. Two of the many things Satsangi do so well are on display here. Firstly, they kind of specialise in epic, doom filled mood pieces which build swiftly to magnificent heights. Secondly, their DNA has always been around thinking outside Little England: they probably have very discernible indie roots still in their sound, but from the start this has at best been a framework to build meta cultural pieces upon. These (to date) have mainly been Indian in form, but as a band whose most spectacular overseas tour so far was to Africa, it might be wiser to see this influence more as an understandable starting point for exploration, being one they knew best, rather than an exclusive focus. "World Falling Down" therefore seems to include influences from beyond these shores: is it too fanciful to catch glimpses of Wagnerian grandeur in there? Am I imagining tasting flavours more of Mitteleuropa than Warwickshire? I'd like to think so.
As most readers will know, the Coventry/Dresden link derives mainly from a shared history of destruction from the air. For Coventrians, the date of 14th November 1940 is unlikely to be easily forgotten, for the inhabitants of Dresden, the 13th, 14th & 15th February 1945 have similar resonance as "Florence on the Elbe" was destroyed. I really don't know if the song is intended to evoke these experiences or not, but to my ears to certainly manages that feat.
The theme of the song apparently is "It's a dark time to go out in the cold, so hold on tight!" but interestingly, despite a possible temptation to go full on apocalyptic mode, if anything, Su's voice (more than capable of bringing the apocalypse down upon us as necessary) tends towards the compassionate, and I doubt if this is accidental. It heads in the direction of Sturm und Drang yet retains a definite humanity to the end. It may well be as much about healing after disaster as the disaster itself.
You can also catch another aspect of the project, Paul Windridge's video of the song, via this link:
"Don't Want Anything But More" by Satsangi
During these turgid times when there is a distinct danger of every successive day seeming like its predecessor, it's helpful to be surprised now & again. So thank you to Satsangi for something out of the ordinary (though I suppose that is something which could be said of any of their work).
Sadly there has not been any chance to assemble the full lineup over the last year to follow up the magnificent ‘You Saw Something' album which is now over two years old, but in the meantime, Johnny & Su have fought back against the circumstances offering us as early as last April ‘Shivoham-Lockdown Lullabies' (the first lockdown album we reviewed) and subsequently "Won't Let Me In", recorded in a similarly slimmed down format for the BBC Sofa Sessions in July.
Now they have done something completely different and released as their new single
"Don't Want Anything But More": not a new full band recording but one dating back perhaps seventeen years to their second ever recording session (with Andie Thomson at Gighouse Studio). Consequently, the configuration of the band is somewhat different to that of the last album: we have continuity in the form of Johnny on electric guitar, Su on vocals, Richard Heath on saxophone and Rob Barrett on drums, but this track also features Mark Yakes on bass and Stacey Hirons playing acoustic guitar.
Even the band can't after all this time remember why the track has not previously seen the light of day. "Joli Shanti" which dates from the same session and is included on the single, has had BBC radio as well as live play & "Don't Want Anything But More" was a staple of the live set of that era.
It's all rather mysterious & that can only add to its allure.
So what does this treasure from the archives actually sound like? Written by Su & Johnny, clearly it predates a great deal of subsequent development of their trademark sound but this in practice means that is sounds unexpected rather than inferior. The full incredible roar which is full on Satsangi of our times has yet to fully evolve: there are fewer instruments in the mix & they are separated more distinctly (it is instructive that when Satsangi were contemplating a few acoustic sets a couple of years ago, they had to turn back the clock to find songs suitable for stripping back the arrangement). Arguably the subsequent ratcheting up of the instrumental attack had a catalytic effect on Su's vocal style & so here we get a more restrained version: one which was probably useful for her to hark back to for the last two releases. The sound contains many of the other elements familiar to us today including Indian influences, but overall the predominance is fairly punky if anything: clashing instruments, unsettling basslines & edgy tones: all things we expect from the band but which have been honed & refined as time has passed.
The songs themselves are far from merely early exercises: the quality of the words & tunes certainly amplifies the sense of wonder that it has taken so long for them to be unleashed.
I can't think of compelling reasons why, once "normal" operations recommence, these two slightly lost gems can't make a return to the live set even if only for a short cameo (I imagine there are far too many more recent ones & those newly created to allow a long run in the setlist) though they would & could never sound precisely as though they do here with the embryonic Satsangi: that moment in time, precious as it was & thankfully captured here & shared with us, has passed on & so has the world, but this in no way lessens its value.
In the meantime, the band ask me to advise you to watch out for exciting new projects this year. Hoorah.
"Won't Let Me In" by Satsangi
Satsangi, never a band to shirk a challenge nor to be meekly led by fate nor wander aimlessly down roads many others have trodden previously, seem to have taken lockdown & the deprivation of the chance to share their music live as almost a personal insult. No doubt they had big plans for 2020, plans which have not (yet) come to fruition, but they have come out of their corner fighting.
I reported on their lockdown album ‘Shivoham-Lockdown Lullabies' back in April & now they have a new single entitled "Won't Let Me In" out today (it's already been played by Brody Swain on BBC Introducing for Coventry & Warwickshire).Necessarily the conditions again preclude the full & such powerful Satsangi lineup from taking part in the writing or recording, so it's just Johnny & Su this time (though Dave Holland mixed it).As you'd expect, it is an acoustic approach again & so chimes much more with its predecessor in sound than the band's more representative one for the last few years. However unlike much of those "Lockdown Lullabies" which were acoustic reworkings of previously released songs, "Won't Let Me In" is a fresh composition created acoustically from the start & I'm struggling to think of anything I've previously heard from them which it sounds like. In fact I can't think of any.It certainly has that beauty so many of their songs has however & in this instance the poetry of Su's lyrics ring through truly as they are that much easier to discern than on the louder numbers: in fact there is an excellent marriage between them, their message, the tone & the musical setting. This is a scintillating blend of guitar parts by Johnny, subtly meshing western & eastern motifs & moods as again in the best of what Satsangi always do.Wistful at times, haunting at others, sublime throughout, it is interesting how the pair achieve so much with what at first glance are limited resources compared with "normal". It's very much a case of how "less is more" can work with those with the talent, experience & taste to demonstrate restraint & introduce space into their works. Certainly Su fans will be delighted to hear what she can achieve in such a manner to complement the stunning effect of her tremendous performances at full throttle.This is an exquisite & gentle song, just right for times of uncertainty & isolation, with an uplifting feel even if the story the words tell is a bit melancholic.Satsangi in duo mode is the current "new normal" perhaps & it works really well: an unlooked for bonus to explore aspects of their craft we shouldn't otherwise have been able to experience. I can't imagine that it is intended to be permanent but it adds another option for what they do & that can only be enriching for them & for us.
‘Shivoham-Lockdown Lullabies' by Satsangi
Well life under lockdown continues to evolve doesn't it: even, or perhaps especially, our musical life. We've had great songs released which were so well written in the first place that they appear to speak eloquently to our times. Then we have had the first fruits of songs written during this current set of circumstances which confront them directly: check out, for example the mighty "Disrespect" by Brass Hip Flask on ‘Hot Music Live Presents Volume Three'.
Now we have our very first lockdown album: it's from Satsangi & it's called ‘Shivoham-Lockdown Lullabies' and it's released today.
Obviously one can write songs about the situation (I know many people are doing just that) but recording them without access to your fellow musicians or the equipment is another thing altogether & so we are most fortunate that both Brass Hip Flask & Satsangi were in a position to do so, even if it means a reduced lineup.
For Satsangi have managed to turn a challenging situation into both a practical & artistic opportunity for which I applaud them as much as I have in past reviews of their records & gigs.
The album contains eight tracks ("Here Comes The Night", "Faith", "Shivoham", "Always On My Mind", "Atmastakam", "Sada Bala (World Mix)", "Red River" & "To Grace") and will raise money for the NHS Covid-19 appeal: 100% going straight to it, so that means it is doing a valuable job.
Under the circumstances, I think we mostly let the artistic element of charitable records escape our critical eye: it's not the point of them is it? Lord knows there have been some highly creditable releases raising much money which you wouldn't necessarily play too often.
In this case though, the band (or those able to convene) have turned the necessity of not being able to unleash the full & awesome power which is what we expect of Satsangi into a virtue: as they say: the tracks' "...stripped down quiet expression seems to reflect our current situation with life in lockdown and social distancing"
We perhaps could have seen previously that this option, an acoustic Satsangi set, was something in their minds already. If you were present at the launch of their most recent album, ‘You Saw Something', (check out the title track on ‘Hot Music Live Presents Vol 3') you'd have seen an acoustic set & they had also played in that manner at a private event.
The key however to this development is the opening track "Here Comes The Night" which hopefully you'll remember from that last album. The first all Su Menon track in terms of composition & performance, it stood out from the ensemble songs elsewhere in that collection with its quiet dignity & calm ambience & it leads us from there to here in a somewhat shorter but not massively rearranged version which sets the scene effectively for what follows.
In fact there are other songs on the album which will be as familiar to fans as "Here Comes The Night", though far from necessarily in the form in which they appear here: "Always On My Mind" was released on ‘No Shoes in Satsangi Hall' in 2012, while "To Grace", "Red River" and "Sada Bala" (in a variety of forms) can be found on 2016's ‘Lick My Lungs': again the latter can with hindsight be seen as a pointer to this collection as apart from the full band version (still a live favourite), a shruti arrangement was on that album and a shruti box can be seen as important an instrument here as an acoustic guitar. There is even one on the very groovy cover.
This album, made in Satsangi guitarist's Dave Holland's attic (aka Kip Studio) & recorded & mixed by him, has a beauty which I think has always been inherent in their music: not the wild & whirling beauty of the majority of their repertoire which dominates their live performances but a gentler, more contemplative one, appropriate to our current mood, much more sacerdotal than say "Iodine" or Baby Doll", yet this aspect of Satsangi has always been there: it just took this catalyst to draw it to our attention more clearly.
The stripping away of instrumentation, the diminution of volume & pruning away of the spiky thorns which tend to adorn Satsangisongs has really exposed Su's voice to much more prominent appreciation. It is a stunning, charismatic & powerful tool when deployed live normally, but here she has the chance to explore other facets of it: more intimate & breathy deliveries, more lingering & savouring of words & syllables.
Is this a new direction for the band? I suspect not: their trademark sound is far too good to leave behind. However it does offer them an extra avenue to explore & one in which to express themselves differently when they wish to. I'm not sure if they intend full acoustic shows (not all of their material is susceptible to this sort of arrangement after all) but segments of a show might be enriched in this way. I've several times asked for "Here Comes The Night" to be played, but hitherto fitting it into a set of markedly different material was a bit of a challenge for them: possibly with more of the same feeling things might fall out otherwise in future. Let's face it, any Satsangi live action would be gratefully received.
In the meantime, download ‘Shivoham' in the knowledge that you are helping the NHS when they certainly need it most. You probably will get most out of it if you adopt a comfortable position, maybe use earphones & submerse yourself in this beautiful & spiritual music. It will change your mindset for sure & take you somewhere pleasant. At least it did me. I think I'll play it at eight as a soundtrack to the weekly NHS clapping too....
Check out the video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S0lzbtFwa2c&fbclid=IwAR0n-unDQuuXVq0ARf3dg3cgBBvZzAAe8QX6MNbP1uTHi79Mp2ytd78VYLU
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