"This Western Oriental's Going Full Circle"
So sang Tjinder Singh on “Wog”, taking an old racial slur and turning it into a statement of cultural intent that neatly encapsulated Cornershop’s globalist aesthetic—one that mixed eastern and western musical styles from Wolverhampton to Lahore, taking in Punjabi folk songs, lo-fi rock, country, and hip-hop along the way.
Tiny Waves, Mighty Sea finds another Western Oriental going full circle. The Glaswegian Asian Sushil K. Dade—driving instructor, brains behind Future Pilot AKA, and former bassist with the Soup Dragons, Telstar Ponies, and the BMX Bandits—takes a similarly global approach, bringing together, among other things, the contemporary Scottish indie scene, ‘60s American West-Coast pop, and Indian devotional songs.
Such eclecticism was perhaps inevitable in that the recording took place as a unique sociocultural event—a process of encounter and exchange among a heterogeneous group of contributors.
Dade, of course, is no stranger to collaborative efforts. Among the many diverse characters who appeared on 1999’s Future Pilot AKA vs. a Galaxy of Sound were Andy Weatherall, Brix Smith, Kim Fowley, Robin Rimbaud (aka Scanner), Alan Vega, Tjinder Singh, and ex-Swell Map Jowe Head. This time around, the process was quite different but even more inclusive. The material was recorded, largely, in one place (Teenage Fanclub’s Disco Citizen studio in Glasgow) over of a period of three days and featured more than 30 guests who came and went, contributing whatever and whenever they liked. Among the better known participants here are members of the Delgados, Belle & Sebastian, the Pastels, James, and Teenage Fanclub. Nevertheless, this was a true communal effort in that it involved not only musicians working in different genres, but also those with varying levels of ability.
Dade coordinated the process not so much with a set goal in mind for each track but, rather, by allowing many of the numbers to evolve and take shape in terms of who was on hand and which instrument each person felt like playing. Lest that conjure up nightmare visions of some kind of neo-hippie jamboree (the sort of nonsense that has no place in the 21st century), rest assured: Tiny Waves, Mighty Sea is nothing of the sort. Its communal design and execution yield nothing but richly melodic, seamless, and gentle pop.
Some of the most affecting music comes in the form of the album’s bhajan pieces (Hindu devotional songs), for instance “Darshan” and “Shree Ram, Jai Ram”, both of which are sung by Dade’s partner Vinita to the accompaniment of some appropriately eastern-nuanced soprano sax by Raymond MacDonald (who is in fact a psychology professor at Glasgow Caledonian University). The most memorable of these Indian songs is the nearly 10-minute “Om Namah Shivaya”, a mantra performed by Belle & Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch (whose vocals Dade has described as “a rare gift from another world”) and adorned with some lilting violin courtesy of Saul Davies (James).
Drawing on another tradition entirely, Dade and friends do a version of “Witchi Tai To”, a number based on a ritual peyote chant and originally recorded by Native American jazz saxophonist Jim Pepper. The influences remain Stateside, albeit on the West Coast, for one of the album’s highlights; “Beat of a Drum” is a short, sweet sing-along homage to ‘60s pop psychedelia featuring Norman Blake (of Teenage Fanclub) on vocals and the Sun Ra of Falkirk, Bill Wells, on Hammond.
A particularly poignant indication of the diversity of the participants here comes with a rendition of Stephen Foster’s “Beautiful Dreamer” performed by Julia Smith, a 96-year-old woman whom Dade met while working for the Alzheimers Scotland organization.
Tiny Waves, Mighty Sea certainly lives up to its title. It draws on many contributors (some of them peripheral) and incorporates, in different measures, an array of sonic influences—and yet the result is an album that’s so much more than the sum of its parts.