Motherjane – Maktub
When this Cochin based band took their first steps to their paths to glory, it was 1996 and it was the first band for Suraj (vocalist), Baiju (lead guitar), John (drums), Clyde (bass) and Deepu (rhythm guitar). We are now in 2009 and it’s been 13 years of Motherjane and playing music for this long is no mean feat. The fact that only 2 of their albums have seen the light of day certainly does not justify their musical abilities and prowess. They consider themselves a live band. They are performers more than just rockers, and with Maktub, they are certainly front runners for all possible national and international laurels. Their fans know this… more so, new fans who have been marveled by this album.
Recently, I watched Motherjane live when they opened for Opeth at IIT Saarang in Chennai. Their stage presence and musicmanship certainly blew the audience away. Amidst the carnage of death metal that day, they certainly were a ‘different’ band and their music appealed to groups alike. Their blend of Indian ragas and rock riffs has certainly kept them in a niche group that is rare and very far to reach in terms of musical blends.
Their first album called Insane Biography released in 2001 certainly got a lot of heads turning. This was the beginning of their musical journey which led them to their next release titled Maktub in 2008. This effort is a landmark in itself- musically, besides its superior production and sound. Their live performances are theatrical and are reminiscent of KISS onstage.
Their opening track titled Chasing the Sun opens with the characteristic Jathi which goes ‘Thaka Thakita’ giving it a very anticipated feel and the tearing riff rips off the curtains to the album that is to be. Baiju with his lead solo is certainly the highlight and anyone interested in Carnatic music will appreciate the blending of two distinct worlds. What is also special is the sound of the rhythm and bass guitars which is executed in élan and style by Deepu and Clyde. ‘Sharp’ is the word for this song and the flawless vocals makes it a chartbuster for sure.
Fields of Sound begins with an uncharacteristic carnatic shred and steeps into a haloed vocal ring where the listener can dwell into Motherjane’s musical landscape. The bass and lead dual of Clyde and Baiju in this song forms the highlight and the off beat rhythmic drumming of John is another aspect which is worth mentioning. Anyone who missed the traditional Mylapore festival can certainly take heart by listening to Maktub and fulfill their desires of listening to some well composed original music.
The acoustics and Suraj’s vocals play an important role in their melancholic performance of Broken. The ambience is introspective and the pace takes one through a deep thought that takes them to a question one longs to answer. The drum – rhythm guitar duo of John and Deepu has weaved magic in this song with tightly execution and well timed structure. The harmonies between the guitars and the lead solo is something one can look forward to and by now, any musician will be proud of this album that Motherjane have come out with.
The bass intro by Clyde to this song has been brilliantly done and the off beat structured drumming by John is certainly recognizable by now and this is where the band lets their listener down just a little bit. Suraj’s performance is certainly stand out but the melancholic tempo keeps the listener in a downbeat mood. A more innovative approach to this song could have worked wonders one can judge, but any musical creation is a magic in itself. All said and done, Blood in the Apple is a touch low on my list when compared to other songs on the album.
Ode to Life begins with an uncharacteristic, un-rock ‘Thaanpura’ intro which gives a spiritual feel and the acoustic accompaniment is heart-warming. This speaks of the band’s maturity and simplicity. Though clocking just over a minute, this is surely one of the best tunes. This song could have been used as their intro or the album’s outro when considering the theme and the feel of the songs in the entire album.
The title track, Maktub begins where Ode to Life leaves us. The strumming – vocal combo of Baiju, Deepu and Suraj works wonders setting up for this power packed song which transverses all belief and beams into the listeners pace of thoughts. A tight song, truly rocking and lyrically one of the most thought provoking. Baiju’s lead solo and John’s drum pounding is the pinnacle of this soul stirring material that any Indian band has produced in a long time. It will be interesting to note that this song has been placed well in the album considering the overall mood and tempo of the songs.
Mindstreet is one of the bands well known songs and has featured previously in their first album. But this rendition has certainly left a lot of people speechless and amazed. Though their old fans prefer the older version, this adaptation is heavier and certainly power packed. This song takes the listener to a more dynamic environ where there are no boundaries and one can feel the grace of Carnatic and the rage of the riff. John’s drumming is certainly a note worthy mention and deserves equal credit along with the usual rhythm – bass duo. The solo is epic and the feel factor is certainly on a high by now.
Like Blood in the Apple, this next track (with a similar bass and drum intro) is another disappointment when you compare it to the album on the whole. The mood deepens after a recovery from a previous slumber and this is not on an even plane at all. Testing the listeners’ mood for sure but on a flow basis, Before One Million Comes One, doesn’t stand out as one of their best efforts. But when played live, this may be a tough nut to crack but the chorus is the best thing the crowds can ask for. Suraj’s vocals could have been a touch deeper and feel-based than just scratching the surface. What makes up for the song are the incredible interludes of the lead guitar which intertwines it like a needle and stitches the two distinct worlds of music into one.
Karmic Steps is a mind-blowing finisher. The best song in the album, it proves to be a technically powerful performance. This rocker of a number is a well made song with the dominant guitars riffing their necks out. The song takes the listener down the rabbit’s hole knowing not what is up next in this conclusive song. Baiju’s solo is a challenge for any guitar player and demands a lot of skill to even cover this song. The song is tight and is vocally and lyrically dominant but the here is where the sound of the drums could have been a lot heavier to even compliment the weight of the riff. But on the whole, if one has to rate this song, it comes as one of their best for sure.
On the whole, I would rate Maktub at 8 / 10. The sound of the drums could have been a lot heavier as at times it gives a feeling of hitting tin cans when it is supposed to be pounding. The vocals need a lot of depth and feel and one can be sure that their next effort will be a better turnaround. With their busy tour and promotion activities, they surely have become a name to reckon with at the Indian Rock arena and they should be proud of that considering the fact that not all bands go on to do shows or even create albums of such musicmanship. They are certainly not “pure” rock or just an Indian band- they have proven themselves to be one hell of a progressive Indian rock band for sure!