Sunday, June 14, 2015

MY TOP 15: THE STONE ROSES

"Eh, who?"

I wouldn't be too surprised if you had that reaction. I had the same when I stumbled upon the band's name on some discussion online raving about how awesome they were. And how influential they were, despite leaving behind just two albums.

I was blown away. It sounded like what Oasis aspired to become. If you're a fan of Britpop / stripped-down alternative rock, you will love the Roses. Let me take you through my favourite 15. They're a Manchester-based band: Two albums coming in 1989 and 1994. Although they're reunited now, the jury's out as to whether there's another album in the offing.

I usually do 20, but since we're dealing with just 2 albums here, I pruned the list down to 15, and yes, even that was tough - there's very little filler in the discography.

15. How Do You Sleep At Night?: This is a little deviant from most TSR songs in the sense, it’s sounds less swagger and more pleading, if you know what I mean. That said, it’s got some signature elements: Brown’s lazy delivery, nice layered instrumentation with a terrific rhythm section.



14. Love Spreads: Another great track, average in comparison to the rest of the album (ah, the travesty!). Imminently enjoyable, cheeky lyrics and as always, amazing basswork. Country-style guitaring!



13. Driving South: Strongest opening to any TSR song, with a magnificent riff Blackmore would have been proud of. But just as you’re expecting an Ian Gillan scream, you’re greeted by Ian Brown’s Oasis-inspiring swagger. Listen to this for the guitaring.



12. She Bangs The Drums: Frenetic pace, with an imminently memorable chorus (Especially the ‘How Could It Come To Pass’ line). It’s apparently about thinking about a loved one, resulting in your heart / chest beating. Nice, quick paced song.



11. Good Times: Great all-round song. Terrific singing – probably the loudest Brown’s ever  ventured - with loud brash guitaring backed by lovely basswork and drumming.



10. I Am The Resurrection: The Roses were more prog than any pop-rock band out there. Sample this, where the chorus comes in after all verses, and then segueing into a long, awesome instrumental section, which occupies over half the song. All the previous songs in the album were relatively short – maxing out at around 5 minutes. Ah well, they were anything but conventional. Oh, and it’s anti-religion (with some quite stinging lyrics, really)



09. Made Of Stone: It’s made very apparent on this track that The Roses have always had an element of dance music in their songs. It’s hard to resist grooving to this track, even though it’s about French student riots (apparently). Also featuring what might be their first extended instrumental section, with a little solo, some effects and a great bassline. It's also the title of their upcoming documentary.



08. Shoot You Down: Probably the sweetest ever song to tell someone that he’s gonna be punched up. The lazy singing, the jangly guitars… It all just works. Classic Roses this.



07. Something’s Burning: If you’re looking for something immediate, you’ve come to the wrong place. Just put on your headphones and indulge yourself in this. Yes, indulge. It seems hedonistic listening to a track like this. In a modern age where everything needs to be efficient and to-the-point, this is anything but. Close your eyes, it’s easy to get distracted by something else. But once you do, you’ll be rewarded. 8 minutes of glorious, dark rave-meets-poprock.



06. Fools’ Gold: Busy drums, gloriously lazy bass, funky guitar, and quiet menacing vocals greet you within a minute of this 9 minute gem. Apparently an anti-war propaganda song. This is totally unlike anything else on the album – it meanders about, taking the listener on a psychedelic journey. Without being instrumental geniuses, the band manages to perform one great instrumental section purely through soundscapes. Fabulous ending to one of the greatest and most influential albums of all time.



Big guns now!

05. I Wanna Be Adored: Probably the Roses’ most famous track? Why not? First song of the first album and anthemic lines, sung with lots of reverb over fine guitar licks. You won’t get too much by way of lyrics here, but as far as an entry point into TSR goes, it's ideal. And yeah, that reverb!



04. Tears: Sure, there’s a lot to like about this song. It’s got some of the signature TSR elements – those vocals with reverb, clangy guitars, terrific drumming, efficient and solid basswork… But what will blow you away is a fantastic guitar solo by John Squire. For me, easily the best performed in the two albums. From 3:25 the song takes a different character, the highlight of which is that sweet, sweet solo, which will make you wonder if you’ve missed out on any other great guitar playing in the previous songs. The song is apparently about Squire coming off drugs for his wife.



03. This Is The One: This just feels epic. Lovely start, a little bassline, in comes the arpeggio, those drums again, and Ian Brown’s echo-ey vocals. Classic Manchester ‘plan’ pronunciation. We’re in the middle of something special. It feels like something The Who would have done, as it picks up. About leaving the past behind and looking forward to a better ahead. This is the song I’d be waiting for at a concert, to jump up and down singing. It’s also played before every Manchester United game – here’s Brown singing it at Old Trafford. Not too many TSR songs are feel-good, and this is upliftingly against the grain.



02. Sally Cinnamon: A worthy contender to the genius that was to come. The 1987 demo had just a dash of that British swagger that would come to define the Stones. Lazy basslines give way to frenetic drumming and jangly guitars in pop-rock at its purest and finest. Not to mention that innocent ‘ah!’ before ‘Sally Cinnamon’. The lyrics are about a man pickpocketing a woman’s jacket and finding a letter from her apparently lesbian lover! I love the fact that this gem doesn't feature in either album - enough justification to listen to not just the 'discography' but also the hidden singles! Keep that in mind before torrenting ;)



01. Breaking Into Heaven: 1994. The reclusive, mysterious Stones had one magnificent album behind them, and came back luxuriously, five years later with another belter. It started extravagantly, with a 11.5 minute track. Now, that length is something that’s usually the preserve of prog-metal and art-rock, not Britpop precursors. But psychedelia meets rave meets pop-rock in this most incredible track which has everything: Instrumentals, hummable anthemic sections, Rush whimsy (think 2112 water flowing), wall-of-sound soundscapes… And like some modern day Pink Floyd, they take their sweet time getting to the point… Only well after the 4-minute point does the song actually kick in to life. When it does, at 4:36, with that sweet guitaring and basswork, it’s orgasmically satisfying. It ends with one of my favourite lyrics of all time:

“You don't have to wait to die,
You can have it all,
Any time you want it.”,

followed by a lovely guitar solo. Magnificent. And all of it seems better because of that meandering start. Shave that 4:35 at the beginning off, and you have a weaker song.


There you go! \m/

Thursday, May 21, 2015

ABOUT MY FAVOURITE GUITAR SOLO

Two days back, I was having a pretty crappy day - an outcome that usually involves close interaction with armpits of fellow victims of the Mumbai local trains, and partially, idiotic meetings.

I knew I needed the ultimate remedy. It needed to be used with caution. Like Getafix would have us believe, overuse might render it useless.

I reached for my most excellent Hifiman HE500 headphones, and plugged on the track I knew would set everything right.

And it did.

==

Never has a piece of music moved me as much as that underrated genius, Alex Lifeson's solo on La Villa Strangiato. Along with Neil Peart on drums and Geddy Lee on bass/keyboards, he created 2:33 of sheer joy and beauty.

To say that Rush is just a band is like saying Nutella is just a spread. They are quite simply, the most efficient band ever - to think that so much sonic magnificence can come out of just three individuals is mind-blowing, and something process engineers the world over should study, before an MBA comes along and creates some stupid 6-sigma presentation.

But I don't want to beat about the bush too much - alas, being a strategy guy in advertising, that's my natural disposition - but here, I just want to talk about this solo.

The song itself is an instrumental, spanning eleven 'movements' over 9 minutes. It's the fourth part of this, A Lerxst in Wonderland, whatever that means, that I'd like to draw your attention to.

Here's the track:



If you're listening to this for the first time, then listen to the whole thing, from the beginning. Trust me, the solo sounds way better that way. In a way, it's like Sachin and Ganguly ripping into the hapless English bowling at Headingley in 2002, but only after Dravid has laid the foundation with an epic 148. Something like that. But anyway.

Read as you listen.

At 3:16, you can FEEL the shift in tone.
By 3:35, something has settled, but there's tension. You notice the world's greatest drummer, Neil Peart, manically hi-hatting away.
And then begins those guitar moans. Those incredibly sexy guitar moans. Oh, shut up, Jimmy Page, you don't hold a candle to this man.
At 4:02, Geddy Lee's bass note fills the air. You can sense it, something is gonna give. Like a tense father-son altercation after an opprobrious word was used by mistake.
The few seconds after that, Lifeson's guitar is almost reassuring. By 4:14, it's turned from tension to beautiful melody. It's just been a few seconds.
Slowly, the pace picks up. At 4:27, it's like a plane getting ready to take off. You know, that moment, it's just teasing you, gliding along the tarmac, as you clutch your seat, waiting for that gut-wrenching zoom to happen?

And then, my favourite moment.
As Lifeson slowly builds up the pace, there's a bit of subtle genius by Rush. Notice Geddy Lee's bass. Before the 'paragraph', if I may call it that, is over, he changes his bassnotes at 4:39 to become more aggressive. Hear it again. Now, suppose he'd waited till the next 'paragraph' began at 4:44, it would have seemed like the whole band just shifted together, it was a deliberate 'taking to the next level'. But since Geddy's already gone into next gear before Alex, you don't know what's hit you. Suddenly, before you know it, the pace has changed from slow and easy to third gear.

Some quick pyrotechnics later (4:48, hear that?), we are clearly going up, up and away - and that happens, at 4:56, as he launches into an astonishing array of notes that never dips in melody despite the speed. As the minute counter crosses 5, you realise that you're hearing something very, very special.

One final run, one final finger-blurring series of notes, before ending in an orgasm - that beautiful, beautiful muted guitar riff at 5:14, which carries on till the end of the 'movement', 5:49.

Phew. I mean, phew. Speechless. As always. Eyes, finally open again.

Rush don't allow you to relax, of course, the next movement throws you right back into action. Your fingers are itching to press rewind, but that's almost disrespectful. You wait till the song is over, and then play again. From the beginning of course.

==

Most guitar solos are just that - solos of guitar. The other musicians are just support acts.
Not LVS. The solo is as much Peart's and Lee's as it is Lifeson. The tension and atmosphere that their incredible drumming and basswork creates is as instrumental (hehe) to this song as Lifeson's fantastic guitar playing.

To fully appreciate what Peart and Lee bring to the table, it's worth listening to the track sans the guitar. Pay attention to Peart's oh so subtle changes. That's the genius of the man.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Em5fO_jb2JA

And see if you can keep time. It's maddening.

==

I've heard every version of LVS that exists on YouTube, including most of the covers. From the classic one (1979, Pinkpop) below, where he's probably played his fastest ever. And that's when you realise, the bugger was 25 when he played this. Twenty fucking five.

 

And of course, there's the 'old' Alex...


No matter which 'other' version I hear, it's imperfect. He's trying too hard, or adds something needless, goes too fast (like the solo outro in the above video), goes too slow, makes it too short... The original studio version remains, in my eyes (ears?) the perfect-est way to do this solo. I'm sure many hardcore Rush fans will agree.

==

I just realise I've written a fairly sizeable post about one guitar solo. But that's how much this means to me. If a piece of music is powerful enough to undo the damage a Borivili Fast train can do to you, it must mean something.

Thank you, Aleksandar Živojinović aka Alex Lifeson, for this.

Friday, April 10, 2015

WHEN DID FLIPKART BECOME THE BAD GUY?

I remember a more innocent time. 

When Twitter was filled with early adopters and quality conversation than brand contests and Bhakt trolls. 

A time when Facebook was more an alternative from Orkut than a marketing monolith. A time when a phone over 5 inches was simply called a landline. 

It was a time when we loved Flipkart. 
It was also a time when very few people knew of Flipkart. It was a time when they sold only books, too. 

Supporting the spirited underdog is hardly a novel concept. It's a narrative that has, since time immemorial, fed literature, popular culture and sport. From David vs Goliath to New Zealand vs Australia, there's a sense of romance in seeing the one against whom odds are stacked beating the big bad bully. 

But it doesn't take long for that underdog, once successful, to metamorph into that bully, even if only perceptually. Human beings are fickle that way, that's the way they're wired. Metallica were once the darlings of the underground who wanted them to be famous. And like the lyric in their own song, King Nothing, goes, "Be careful what you wish". With the popularity of their albums, they increasingly tended towards the Goliath end of the metal scale. They made a video for 'One' - and this was unpardonable in the underground metal community. This was seen as a sign of selling out. Popularity, it would seem, was fine as long as it was within limits.

Back to Flipkart. They were our beloved book etailer (how cool was just saying that word, back in 2008?). They stocked the most obscure of things, that Landmark and Crossword (who, no doubt, had to stock popular titles and diversify to meet rapidly increasing overheads) didn't. Books, more than anything else, was the true love of the English-speaking intelligentsia, and Flipkart soon became their darling. It was their (sorry, our) little secret. It felt cool. Delays in delivery were forgiven. They were cool, too. Witty replies on Twitter. 

Remember this?




















Honestly, it was with mixed feelings that I saw their diversification. They did it very naturally and organically. We cheered them along the way as they got funding. Much deserved! Now more people can know of their awesomeness. They had some truly innovative products like Flyte, the online music store. This was the peak of my personal love for them.

With more funding came acquisitions. Suddenly our little underdog was no longer one. When they became an online megastore, we were still with mixed feelings. Sure, they created the most adorable ad campaign in India since Vodafone's Pug, but not too many people from 2008 could have pictured Flipkart one day selling refrigerators. 


Their replies got less and less startuppy and more corporate. The complaints grew, an inevitable thing to happen to a service company trying to achieve scale. Consumers were more demanding. And the financial tabloids feasted on gossip. Negative news. Foreign funding. Listing in Singapore. Tax avoidance. 
News of multi-crore salaries. Mahesh Murthy's epic description of them as "VC-funded ecom charities". 















Competition didn't help. Two years back, we'd have laughed if we were told Amazon could dent Flipkart's hegemony. The number of voices who, almost regretfully, said, "Dude... It's actually cheaper on Amazon / Snapdeal... Getting it from there.", almost like if they were cheating on a spouse, increased. The Indian consumer was as promiscuous as a Frenchman in a brothel (I think it was Andy Zaltzman who said that. The latter - he is not an expert on Indian purchase behaviour as far as I know).

Another thing that didn't help was a totally useless loyalty program called Flipkart First, but I'll rant about that later.

Here we are. 2015. Flipkart has all the signs of a corporate Goliath. Money. Ads. Customer complaints. Lots of hatred around the mobile app being pushed to your face (ugh). These were Flipkart's 'One' moments - to recall what happened to Metallica.

But it was alright. Deep down, we somewhere still like(d) Flipkart. It is, after all, a homegrown example. 'Sachin and Binny!' automatically came to mind when we thought of new-age Indian entrepreneurs. They were our star duo, our answer to Sergei and Larry. Kids from the IIMs, who used to prefer HUL and McKinsey, now go there. They are the beacon of Indian Startupnagar.

How did that love turn to like, which is such an untenable position in this day and age?

Today morning, I saw a campaign on Reddit, in response to an absurd comment made by the Flipkart CEO. The campaign was to get as many people to rate the Flipkart app as 1-star on Google Play.

It felt like a natural conclusion of all the Net Neutrality debates that were happening over the last few weeks. But I'm not going to talk about that - it's another debate.

But it led me thinking.
Rewinding to that simpler time.

Where IPL had just started. Where I had a Nokia E63.
Where Flipkart was universally loved.

Fans of 'professional wrestling' will know that the storylines are written in such a way that a 'face' becomes a 'heel' or vice-versa to maintain interest and drama. This ain't no wrestling match.

Which led me to wonder:
When did that lovable Flipkart of 2008 become the heel?

I miss ya, Good Guy Flipkart.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

A REALLY EASY WAY TO DE-CLUTTER YOUR DESKTOP

As much as my mom might roll her eyes at hearing this, I'm not too much of a fan of clutter. Especially on my gadgets.

I've spent hours organizing my music collection (using a fantastic tool called Tag&Rename) and I kinda get a kick out of photo organizing.

When I got my first computer, I quickly saw the merit of the 'Quick Launch' toolbar, a handy place to keep all the rubbish at bay. It was our cheap version of the cool icon-bar on Apple computer. However, as Windows got more evolved (I use that term cautiously), the Quick Launch bar went away and caused me immense distress. Until I discovered a workaround. It's pretty simple.

Step One: Right click the Taskbar, and deselect 'Lock The Taskbar'. Then drag it to increase its height.



Step Two: Create a folder - call it Toolbar (or anything else you fancy, really). Keep it anywhere. You won't be accessing it much.





















Step Three: Right click the toolbar. Go to Toolbars -> New Toolbar. Navigate to select the 'Toolbar' folder you've just created. Voila! Your 'toolbar' is created there, and now you can drag and drop shortcuts and create your own Quick Launch. 

Right click and deselect 'Show text' and 'Show title'.





















Step Four: Drag and drop shortcuts of apps you commonly use onto this little toolbar.



And there you have it! All the commonly used programs are right down there. Making it easy for you to access them. If there are certain files that you access regularly as well (For eg: I have an Expenses file and a cycling log whose Excels are linked down there so I don't have to navigate every time I need to make an entry).

Oh, and a couple more things:

1. I hate having icons on the desktop. A clean desktop is more therapeutic than you think. It also forces you to keep new downloads / documents in folders they should be in rather than the most convenient location. It's easy to hide icons from the desktop. See?




















2. If your computer is slow to start, it could be because there are lots of rubbish apps (Adobe Acrobat updater, anyone?) that feel compelled to start when the computer starts. Thankfully, you can disable all of them. Go to your start bar, and type in 'msconfig.exe'. Then go to 'Startup' and uncheck whatever you don't want at startup. Some tools might be useful, of course, like your antivirus, but in general, you can safely uncheck most of these.

















There we go. Hope this helps :D

Friday, August 08, 2014

DEAR 20 YEAR OLD ME

Ok, you young idiot.


















Yes you.

Firstly - the good news. You'll still have hair when you turn 30. But not by much. Also, you're married to an awesome woman. I don't want to spill the beans about that here (why take away from the joy of discovery?). All I will say is - keep an active interest in audio products, especially ones that play lossless files. Also, yes - you'll end up in MICA and advertising, like you wanted. Living the dream of wearing shorts to office and making PPTs at 11 PM.

However, life is not all hunky-dory. There are going to be some ups and some very downing downs, but I can't tell you about them, because, heck, you love Back To The Future as much as I do, and you know what happens when you go mucking around with the space-time continuum too much.

However, here's some advice for you. Keep these things in mind, won't you?

Invest.
I know. Most boring start ever. But seriously, this will make more difference to your life than the Darcy-Weishbach Equation ever will. You'll start earning soonish. Just plonk away a teeny amount like 1000 a month into an RD or something. Do some compound interest calculations and (to use 2014 lingo), what happens next will astonish you.

No, really, you idiot. Stop hogging at Thrissur AFC and get a good mutual fund instead.

Travel.
You stay in freakin' Kerala. Most people around the world would do anything to be where you are (no, not in the hostel exactly - but you get my point). Tons of your batchmates go on bike rides. Join them. That way, you won't be spending your 30th birthday wondering how to pack all that you want to do in 5 days of an upcoming Kerala trip. Just... Go. Discover. Do. Click. Soak it in.

Write and draw.
You used to draw some decent comics when you were in school. You stopped while at college. Don't. Keep drawing. Soon, the internet will allow you to publish stuff online. Write. Write a lot. Regularly. That way, some of the stuff you do publicly online later will be less embarrassing. And trust me - there's a lot of rubbish out there with your name on it.

Listen to a lot of music.
You're stuck in a rut of listening to the same 30 songs over and over again. Explore new genres. Rock, metal, prog, classic, world, Mallu film... There's so much to listen to, and when you're 30, you'll feel like you wasted your 20s not listening to at least 1 TB by now. (Haha, you don't know what a TB is... How cute. Wiki it. Oh wait.)

Make music. Even if it's bad.
Soon, you'll be in a place which has talented musicians, a recording studio, a captive audience and tons of free time. Take advantage of all of that. Play stuff. Record. You'll never get that opportunity again. Going to MICA and not making music is like going to Barbeque Nation and eating paneer. Just publish something to call your own.

Value free time.
Treasure every free minute. And dammit, do something. You while away way too much time. Get off your arse. Exercise. Lose that flab. Go for a walk. Explore the cities you've stayed in but know jack about. Do anything. Just don't laze around. You gotta look back at each day and say, "Yeah, I did something awesome today."

Do this and you'll be fine. I wonder if my 40-year-old self would be kind enough to send me a letter, now...

Cheerio!
Your just-turned-30 self.