In a scene full of pretend bonhomie and clubby insiderism, Bangalore/Delhi lo-fi punks Hoirong are the perennial gate-crashers. Over two albums and a string of shorter releases, the solo project-turned-band has released some of the weirdest, most self-aware and melodically abrasive music to come out of India.
The band has built a cultishly devoted audience. Part of the attraction is their gnarly, chewed-up mix of 1990s alt-rock riffs, pop melodies and guitar noise, which sounds like nothing we’ve heard in this country before. Then there’s founder and principal songwriter Kamal Singh’s razor sharp wit and keen sense of the absurd, accompanied by a total unwillingness to take himself or the overly-corporate, image-obsessed music industry too seriously. Add a Madonna cover or two into the mix and you have India’s most meme-friendly punk band.
After months of teasing, Hoirong finally dropped their third album, Mwah, last month. While its predecessor, Dandaniya Apraadh, was inspired by the many small and large aggressions of life in New Delhi, Mwah is much more personal. Singh has spent the past year-and-a-half grappling with depression, exacerbated by a crisis in his personal life.
The 14 tracks on Mwah largely deal with this struggle, as Singh exorcises his demons.
The bizarre humour of earlier albums is tempered here by a very 1990s sense of jaded vulnerability. This, combined with a slightly more polished production courtesy of Delhi’s Viraaj Mohan, makes Mwah the band’s most accessible album yet.
Along with Akhil Sood on guitars, Avinash Manoli on bass and Akshat Nauriyal on drums, the walls of noise and the squalling guitar parts are still there, of course, but this time they’ve been tamed and harnessed to serve the songs rather than being allowed to run wild over the soundscape.
I’d call it Hoirong’s “pop” album, in the same way that Nirvana’s Nevermind was a pop album.
Opener Pushup Bra sets the tone with disjointed garage-punk riffs, propulsive drumming and brutally honest self-assessment (“But I am not the man I said I am … I am such a … mess”). It’s an anthem for the therapy generation with its refrain of “I believe I found myself and everyone else can save the world”. Peace turns up the anger and paranoia a notch, with its thunder cannonade guitar riffs and lyrics like: “This is not communication this is death.”
Referencing an old soft drink commercial featuring the Detroit Pistons basketball player, Grant Hill Drinks Sprite sounds like a beefed-up version of the band Pavement, all ramshackle guitar fuzz, angular, atonal guitar leads and stream-of-consciousness lyrics in the manner of the band’s frontman Stephen Malkmus.
One of the few explicitly political songs on the record, 47RR features martial drums, sharp jagged guitars, hypnotic riffing and Singh’s scathing commentary on war, nationalism and Hindutva. It also offers up the funniest dismissal of the pompous language of going to war I’ve ever heard, with the line “Get your act together it’s time for the bum bala bum bala bum bum.”
On Two To Tango, Hoirong take aim at the omnipresent indie scene hangers-on, the culture vultures who treat indie music as an easy way to accumulate cultural capital.
The Weezer-esque song takes the form of an inner monologue as Singh mocks indie hipsters (“Hey you … idiot / wave your hands in the air because we know that you don’t care”), before snidely – and sadly, accurately – concluding that “you are more famous than we will ever be”.
There are no weak cuts on this record, even with less spectacular songs littered with little moments of humour and typically madcap experimentation.
Like most great punk rock, Mwah is an evocative piece of outsider music for urban India’s freaks and misfits. It’s a tribute to the sounds – and the substance – of the 1990s punk underground but filtered through Hoirong’s distinctive, distorted lens. If music has ever helped you feel understood and less of an outsider, then this is an album for you.
Bhanuj Kappal is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai who writes about music, protest culture and politics.
Source: art & life