Artist: Project Mishram
Release Title: Meso
Release Date: 26/02/2021
Location: Bengaluru, India
Digital Price: $6 USD
Written by James Sweetlove and Yari Wildheart
You may not immediately think of southern India when you think of progressive music, but Project Mishram is a perfect example of the creative genius coming out of that region. From Bengaluru, Project Mishram specialises in a unique prog blend of Carnatic music with electronic, hip hop, jazz, and metal. Carnatic (or Karnatak) music is, of course, classical music from southern India, and maintains the use of traditional ragas and talas, but has a distinctly more vocals-oriented sound. Carnatic music has a sort of intellectual flair to it owing to the range of complex pieces and songs composed over the years, and that lends itself to progressive and fusion acts with the complexity often found there.
Carnatic fusion coming out of southern India has produced fantastic results. Project Mishram are a crew of seven members from the city of Bengaluru who have made waves lately with their debut album Meso. They are comprised of Shivaran Natraj, vocalist, beatboxer, synth/programmer, and mridangam player, on full display throughout Meso with vocal styles including konnakol. Konnakol is a part of Carnatic music that is a sort of beatboxing or scat, a traditional form of vocal percussion that has quite a distinctive sound that adds more traditional depth to Meso and contrasts well with the jazz-style scat singing present in tracks like Nivaasa.
Besides Natraj, there are six other core members. Anirudh Koushik, also on vocals and playing the flute. Pranav Swaroop B N, violinist & vocalist. Ram Srinivas, Bassist & vocalist. Sanath Shanbhogue Manikkara, drummer, mridangam player, and vocalist. Finally on guitars we have Srishankar Sundar and Sumant Nemmani, with Sundar also contributing to vocals. With a band lineup that includes all these different instruments and talents, one would expect an interesting, diverse sound. Somehow, Project Mishram surpasses these expectations with Meso, having a wide variety of vocal styles and instrumentation, blending classical and modern, Indian and international styles all at once.
The project draws influences from right across the musical spectrum. If one pays attention, they will notice new elements on every listen through. On top of the already mentioned elements of prog, Carnatic music, electronic, hip hop, jazz, and metal (specifically prog and djent) you’ll also pick up elements of reggae, dub and world music. The vast array of influences allows the band almost infinite possibilities when it comes to song progression. This is an opportunity that they embrace in full, never allowing the music to feel even remotely stale or repetitive.
Complex jazz arrangements give way to relaxed hip hop and reggae fusion verses, which in turn give way to more aggressive djent style pieces. All the while things feel smooth and natural, the album is devoid of any knee-jerk style shifts and avoids giving the listener any musical whiplash. One of the band’s greatest strengths is their clear understanding of balance. The tracks on the album all equally balance atmosphere and energy, heaviness with lightness, stimulation with relaxation. After things get heavier and more experimental the band always brings things back down again before arching right back up.
There are times when you know that you’re listening to highly complex music, however there are other times when it feels like the album moves beyond that. At points the music takes on an almost spiritual quality. This is found in the segments of Carnatic music and world music that make their appearance throughout the album. The vocals overlapping some of these segments truly elevate things further and add to the clear emotional depth of these parts. Together they really connect with the listener (given that the listener is open to it) and stimulate them in a completely different way to the heavier or more technically complex segments of the release. The inclusion of Indian folk instruments such as mridangam and veena, alongside other beloved folk/classical instruments like violin and flute really adds to this complexity.
There are also times with some of the jazz elements that I feel almost transported back in time to a 1920s jazz lounge. The band truly nail that classic old school feeling and atmosphere in parts. These are definitely some of my favourite segments on the album, they’re just such a unique addition to the album. Another favourite element of mine is the use of dub and reggae elements. Personally I absolutely love dub, part of this is thanks to growing up in New Zealand where there happens to be a strong and active dub scene and culture. There is something about dub that relaxed the listener in ways that other genre’s simply can’t, the rhythms and beats are just so soothing.
Overall, what I would suggest if you plan to tackle this release, is to go into it with a completely open mind. Let this review give you an idea of what to expect but shed any preconceived notions of what this album will be like before embarking upon the journey it will take you on. I also recommend paying very close attention with each listen through as I guarantee that there are going to be elements that you miss. There is simply so much going on with this records that it’s almost impossible to absorb all of it with just one listen. This is also an album where you should sit down and listen to in full and giving your full attention. This isn’t simply background music while you do housework.
So, what are you waiting for, dive right into the album and experience a taste of the complexity and diversity that Bengaluru’s finest have to offer. Prepare to expand both your musical horizons and your mind.
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