Koushik: Out My Window

Out My Window
Stones Throw

When Koushik’s EP Be With appeared on Stones Throw in 2005, press surrounding the disc suggested that the album was a teaser for a full length LP that was right around the bend. Be With contained enough lush hip hop psychedelia to brace the nerves for such an anticipated release, though there was also a fair share of underestablished sketches that signaled a potential disappointment should Ontario’s Koushik Ghosh be hasty with his programme. With such unresolved expectations lingering within listeners, it was quite a surprise, then, that Koushik would drop off the face of the earth for three years before finally making it back to us with that promised album.

Out My Window is neither the largesse of lapidary quartz treasures nor the semi-stoned halfway-refined zirconium batch of almost-rans Be With projected. Instead, it’s an album with a full vision, an occasionally brilliant batch with individually incongruous elements that thankfully only court a small amount of much attention.

Out My Window‘s title suggests both a gaze (staring out my window) and a geographical counterpoint to the trappings of Western domiciliary living (the world outside my window). As such, Koushik, who earned his masters in ethnomusicology, has made an album that is both steeped in the pastoral and deeply nostalgic for the brand of recorded music that ferments as it ages (particularly anything recorded between 1962 and 1975). The mix of natural-sounding tones and acid flashback sample-hooks is not unlike Koushik’s fellow Canuck Caribou, whose 2003 album Up in Flames featured two key vocal performances by Koushik.

Koushik is far more Zen and ascetically lethargic than Caribou, though, and far less ornate than the folktronica of his buddy Four Tet’s Dialogue and Pause, to which this album could also garner comparison. Though it’d probably be fair to say that all of the aforementioned artists share a deep affection for Alice Coltrane/ Pharoah Sanders-style Easternized free jazz and sundry Curtis Mayfield grooves, Koushik’s sounds mainly ignore the modernity implicit in Four Tet and Caribou’s electronics, save for an obsession with the hip-hop breakbeat.

It’s that breakbeat that often proves the most troublesome for Koushik. When his Stones Throw contemporaries like Madlib utilize this retro-fusion of Western rhythm and Eastern yogic sonic meditations, the raps and rhymes are the crucial power source of the songs, not the looped beats. Koushik’s hazy psych-pop vocals, on the other hand, are like perfume sprinkled atop his soundscapes as he drifts his focus between melody and rhythm. His melodies are occasionally cacophonous, which usually results in a shift in emphasis to the drums, which lack discipline or variation on many of the songs.

On “In a Green Space”, for example, the drum drive gets so overpowering that it sucks the energy out of the song. The track eventually collapses back down to size, causing the song to linger flaccidly, albeit more interestingly, in a telluric ooze of what sounds like digitally time-stretched echoing guitar strings, harmonium, and brushes of human intoning.

Overall, though, there’s some staggeringly pretty choice moments on Out My Window, including an incredibly strong fourth quarter melodic uplift, in inverse to the traditional frontloaded album structure. The fanfare trumpet on “Bright and Shining” is a superhero/action news beacon call that, combined with dense layers of tribal rhythmic boogie and Koushik’s soft-focus overreverbed vocals, makes for the ecstatic banger the rest of the album waits in meditative patience for. “Forest Loop” is an all-too-brief flute-based interlude of blissful contentment whose backdrop of laughing children makes one think of jungle gyms and blowing bubbles.

Opener “Morning Comes” genuinely sounds like waking up, much like Koushik’s vocals, which he runs through a shoegazer’s worth of phasing and reverse echo pedals in an attempt to establish a kind of permanent hyperreal waking state effect. It makes most of the words themselves indiscernible at times, but never to the point of detracting from the euphoric grandeur of songs like “Lying in the Sun” or the countrified folk-twang of the happy-whistler “Nothing’s the Same”.

Koushik has earned his place amongst the Stones Throw roster, as Out My Window is indefinitely hep to the max. It’s not yet his Up in Flames or his Pause, which is admittedly a pretty tall order. With these 17 songs, though, it’s not a far cry to suggest that such an album might be waiting just around the bend, just a little further through that windowpane looking glass.

RATING 7 / 10