[8 April 2009]
On Hello Hello, the third proper album from Midival Punditz (not including piles of remixes), the New Dehli-based duo continue to combine electronic dance beats with traditional Indian music. They also throw in some songs that are mostly straight club tracks, find time to work in a Led Zeppelin cover, and include an acoustic remix of one of their own songs.
Continuing their longtime collaboration with similarly-minded musician Karsh Kale, the Punditz open Hello Hello with “Electric Universe”, a song that starts off spacey with fluttering flute flourishes, but blossoms into a dance track when Kale’s vocoder vocals enter around 1:45 into the song. Driven by a catchy, pseudo-guitar keyboard and a slightly irregular beat, it’s clearly intended as a single. It’s also a track that, beyond the style of flute playing, seems to have very little Indian influence to it. This could be a club track by musicians hailing from San Francisco to Prague and all points in between. Less successful is the album’s closing track, the acoustic version of “Electric Universe”. Predictably for a song named “Electric Universe”, when stripped of its dance beat and electronic bells and whistles, there isn’t much to the song. It’s nice to hear Kale sing without using a vocoder, but the spare arrangement of simple acoustic guitar and piano probably has the opposite effect of what was intended. It’s just not very interesting when pared down to the very basic elements.
The album’s second track, “Tonic”, on the other hand, is all Indian beats and female vocals in Hindi (I assume; it could be Tamil—not my area of expertise). The song has a deep groove that’s accentuated by a low-voiced spoken word section and periodic low brass chords. It almost comes across like a Björk song, if she had come from India instead of Iceland. Third track “Atomizer” heads back in the other direction, establishing a divide that goes on for the entire album. Hello Hello is almost evenly split between international club tracks that could have come from anywhere in the world, and songs that emphasize the Punditz’ Indian heritage. “Atomizer” is a thumper, driven by pulsing synth bass and staccato electric guitar chords, and more vocoder vocals from Karsh Kale. Next up is a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Four Sticks”, using lots of strings and horns in the background, and using a female singer to play the part of Robert Plant. It’s a pretty successful effort, although doing an Indian-influenced cover of a Led Zeppelin tune doesn’t seem particularly difficult.
On the second half of the album, chilled-out tracks like “Naina Laagey”, “Drifting”, and “Sun Mere Sanam” seem to set the tone. “Naina” uses a simple guitar figure, airy flute, and a catchy keyboard riff to support the Hindi vocals of Papon. At six-and-a-half minutes, though, it wears out its welcome. The instrumental “Drifting” fares better, covering similar territory in just over three minutes. “Sun Mere Sanam” starts off slow and slightly menacing before brightening up into another airy, easygoing track.
The disc’s one truly exciting moment comes in “Desolate”, a minor-key song that effectively combines hard rock, electronic, and Indian sounds. It sounds like nothing else on the album, and it all comes together just right for the Punditz. By staying away from distorted guitars for the rest of the disc, this one occurrence works that much better. Elsewhere on the album, the vocals are either in English or Hindi, but “Desolate” employs both languages at different points to great effect.
Hello Hello is an album that’s sort of stuck between two different styles, as if the Midival Punditz aren’t quite sure what they want to be. Fortunately, despite the disparity between the club tracks and the Indian-oriented songs, most of the music here works. “Desolate” and “Electric Universe” are particularly strong, and the rest of the disc is solid. You can’t shake the feeling, though, that if the duo were trying harder to merge their club and traditional sensibilities on this album, it would be a lot more interesting.