While Nitin Sawhney achieved critical mass a decade ago with his Mercury Prize-nominated effort Beyond Skin, the UK beatsmith has nevertheless created a bountiful array of music since then. His latest opus London Undersound arguably yields his most somber and intriguing effort to date.
The man himself says “this is an album of collaboration to capture the London I know,” which underscores the fact that Undersound is more importantly the artist’s heartfelt reaction to how his home turf was forever changed after the July 2005 bombings. With catharsis in mind and the goal being to highlight London’s “heartbeat,” Sawhney has corralled an eclectic bunch of UK natives to aid his cause.
“Days of Fire” is a fitting opener, with Sawhney providing gentle acoustic guitar as North London singer Natty provides mental images of a train along with “flashing light” and “an explosion.” Though the track’s fluttering melody and stutter-step beats provide an easygoing atmosphere, when you realize Natty witnessed the bus explosion firsthand as well as the subway shooting of a Brazilian man misidentified as a terrorist, the track both startles and resonates.
While the calm, melancholic mood rarely wavers, Sawhney is never one to forsake a good beat or misjudge his collaborators. Acoustic elements are sprinkled here and there, but the artist can still tap into his electronica know-how to wield a breezy drum n’ bass tune with Imogen Heap on “Bring it Home.” Sawhney can also just as easily indulge trip-hop heads on the Massive Attack-like “Last Train to Midnight” as he can invite musical royalty, namely Sir Paul McCartney, to offer his vocal talents on the midtempo ditty “My Soul.”
After sprinkling interludes, which basically sound like field recordings, throughout, Sawhney offers as London Undersound‘s denouement the track “Charu Keshi Rain,” which features Anoushka Shankar and her lovely sitar strains that bring this quiet storm of a record to its peaceful rest.
Nitin Sawhney: www.nitinsawhney.com