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Mukul: Stray

Reviewed By: Paul Raven
Label: Wasted Word Records
Format: CD

Okay, I want you to take every preconception about the sort of music that Indians make, and burn them – because Bombay's Mukul has just released an album that defies every stereotype and cliché in the book. In fact, I think it would be fair to say that 'Stray' would be a genre-smashing piece of work regardless of its creator's country of origin. There are hints of lo-fi minimalist hip-hop and electronica, disturbing fun-house reflections of lounge and the sleazier end of R&B, and a strong sense of the highly personal solipsism of the singer-songwriter. Spacious yet claustrophobic, evoking the simultaneous clamour and loneliness of a city so vast and crowded that even the long-term Londoner would feel intimidated, 'Stray' is a trip – in both senses of the word. If Mukul hasn't at one time or another taken a few adventures into the medicine cabinet, he does a damn good impression of someone who has.

'Stray' is like a movie without any visuals – or rather a movie for which you supply your own visuals. It doesn't take an over-active imagination to conjure up scenes to accompany these incredibly honest and close-focused songs; close your eyes, and sit in with Mukul in sparsely furnished rooms overlooking crowd-packed streets as he stares into space, sends text messages on his phone, or seduces women who may or may not be anything more than figments of his imagination. It's a hallucinatory experience; burgeoning with sexual tension and personal angst, existential bafflement and the estrangement that can only truly occur when utterly surrounded by a metropolis of millions. Think of 'Naked Lunch' set in Bombay, remixed by William Gibson and starring a subcontinental Serge Gainsbourg with a penchant for better living through chemistry ... that's about as close as you're going to get. It's fascinating.

But is it any good? That altogether depends on what you want to take from it. You're not going to be able to dance to it. You're not going to be wandering around whistling the hooks or singing the choruses (though you might mumble a line or two as you cross the blurred line between wakefulness and sleep). And using it as the soundtrack to a seduction would probably be considered admissible in a court of law as the musical equivalent of slipping Rohypnol and Ketamine into the victim's drink. But it's still a surprisingly rewarding album, if you have the fortitude to stick it out; it's not for fans of disposable pop. Music is an art form, but an album that is actually a work of art is a rare thing. I'm inclined to suggest 'Stray' is one of them – with the caveat that, like Damien Hirst's work, the art will not speak the same way to everyone – let alone appeal to them.

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