Sunday, December 30, 2012

Round two: Green Day make a splash

album review

Band: Green Day
Album: ¡Dos!

Their touring plans may have been postponed following Billie Joe Armstrong’s onstage meltdown and subsequent stint in rehab, but the unveiling of their three-albums-in-four-months project continues unabated with the release of ¡Dos!, the second disc in the ¡Uno!, ¡Dos!, ¡Tré! series.

¡Uno!, the first part of the trilogy, reminded listeners that the group may have been delving into rock operas of late, but they can still churn out a set of fun pop rock ditties, taking us back to the sound that swathed their ‘90s offerings. Like on the first installment, the pop rockers still retain the vigor of their old, pre-American Idiot selves on this follow-up, but unlike ¡Uno!, ¡Dos! seems slightly less concerned with being breezy power pop, and displays a tad more edge and variety. Mostly there isn’t a dramatic shift in direction, just a slight tilt towards a more garage rock oriented sound.

The songs on the set are variously hedonistic and cautionary. Billie Joe Armstrong sings about reckless partying and he sings about its pitfalls which seem all the more resonant given his current circumstances; perhaps the songs’ underlying darkness becomes more apparent in light of how things have unfurled for the singer during the last few months.

First single, ‘Stray Heart’, a straightforward, catchy tune, is business as usual for the California rockers, and the energetic jaunt of songs like ‘Stop When the Red Lights Flash’, ‘Wild One’, ‘Baby Eyes’, and ‘Wow! That’s Loud’ continues the rock ‘n’ roll party while exuding the standard Green Day charm.

Elsewhere though, the change in direction becomes more apparent. The hip hop of the peculiar ‘Nightlife’ - the group’s awkward collaboration with rapper Lady Cobra - goes for a sound that is better left to the Gorillaz, although it does show that the band is trying something different; not necessarily impressive, but definitely different. The Strokes reminiscent ‘Lazy Bones’ and The White Stripes tinged ‘Lady Cobra’ - that, thankfully, does not feature Lady Cobra - see the band take a brisk trip to the garage. And the somber album closer ‘Amy’, a tribute to Amy Winehouse, brings the album to a seemingly heartfelt, albeit a tad listless, end.

As an album, ¡Dos! is more interesting and varied but less poppy than ¡Uno!, and its content carries darker undertones beneath the surface. Its overall effect brings Green Day’s side project Foxboro Hot Tubs to mind, which isn’t surprising since it even includes a track that started as a Foxboro tune. It may be more scruffy than ¡Uno!, but it certainly feels more polished than Stop Drop and Roll!. As for the ¡Uno!, ¡Dos!, ¡Tré! project on the whole, the presence of fillers in the set is becoming more apparent as we go along. Green Day aren’t writing about matters of grave importance or creating grand rock operas here, but they certainly know how to make catchy, enjoyable music. And while some of the songs on ¡Dos! don’t stay with the listener quite like some of the group’s more immediate ditties do, there are enough interesting songs on this set to keep you interested in the trilogy and looking forward to its next installment.

- By Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 30th December, 2012

Saturday, December 29, 2012

MMXII

cover story

The world rolled along the same as ever, as humanity continued its freefall for yet another year in 2012. And the fact that it was a leap year meant we had an extra day to plunge a little deeper into the abyss that is our existence. 2012 wasn’t a complete write-off though, as we did make some advances in science, inspired each other by attempting daring feats, and came together to raise our voices against oppression and injustice. Here’s what we were up to during the last 366 days…

January
- The Year of Cooperatives: 2012 was declared the International Year of Cooperatives by the UN to highlight the importance and “contribution of cooperatives to socio-economic development, particularly their impact on poverty reduction, employment generation, and social integration”. Here’s hoping the UN can declare 2013 as the Year of Mass Communication so that they can themselves learn how to reach out to the public and actually inform us about these kinds of things for a change.
- U.S. tornadoes: A tornado outbreak in the Southern United States caused millions of dollars of damage, but tornados weren’t the only natural disasters that hit the world this year. Adding to our worry were earthquakes, hurricanes, and typhoons that devastated thousands of people. The East Azerbaijan earthquakes (August) stole over 300 lives in Iran, becoming the deadliest earthquake of the year. Hurricane Sandy (October) struck North America, killing over 250 people. And the Philippines was devastated by Typhoon Bopha (November), which resulted in over 900 fatalities, and left over 800 people missing.

February
- Queen’s Diamond Jubilee: The 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s accession to the throne marked one of the most important events of the year, and we’re using the word important quite incorrectly here. Later in the year, various members of the British Royal Family were also embroiled in some controversies. Kate found out the hard way that if you’re famous, then you really shouldn’t do anything outside your home that you don’t want the whole world to see. Harry discovered why excessive partying and playing strip billiards aren’t a very good idea. And we all learned that crank calls aren’t funny; and, humiliating people for a laugh is both crass and dangerous.
- Academy Awards: Hollywood continued its self-indulgent back-patting with its usual line-up of award shows. At the head of the pack were the 84th Academy Awards, which saw the genuinely delightful The Artist (2011) take home the coveted Best Picture award, as well as four other Oscars, including the Best Director prize for Michel Hazanavicius, and the Best Actor trophy for Jean Dujardin. Meryl Streep won the Best Actress honour for her role in The Iron Lady (2011). Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy became Pakistan’s first female Oscar winner, when Saving Face (2012), the documentary she directed with Daniel Junge, won the golden statuette in the Best Documentary, Short Subject category. (And yes, we’re still quite miffed that little Uggie wasn’t awarded a Best Animal Actor trophy!)
- Arab Spring: The ongoing Arab Spring movement continued to reshape the Middle East. Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh was succeeded by Vice President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Al-Hadi in February; Mohamed Morsi because the President of Egypt in June; Mohammed Magariaf was anointed the Chairman of the General National Congress of Libya in August; while unrest continued in countries including Bahrain and Syria.

March
- James Cameron’s deep sea dive: Canadian film director James Cameron became the first person to reach the Challenger Deep, the deepest known point on Earth, in a solo trip, piloting the Deepsea Challenger craft. He had supposedly realised that humanity has hit rock bottom and wanted to try and find it …
- Encyclopædia Britannica: 244 years after first publishing their encyclopaedia in 1768, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. announced that it would not produce any new print editions of the encyclopaedia. Trees of the world heaved a collective sigh of relief.

April
- Siachen avalanche: As wonderful as nature is, it can sometimes be heartbreakingly brutal, as it was when the avalanche in the Siachen region hit a Pakistani military camp. 124 soldiers and 11 civilians were buried under the snow and lost their lives.
- Bhoja Air crash: Another tragedy struck when Bhoja Air Flight 213 crashed while travelling from Karachi to Islamabad, killing its 121 passengers and six crew members. This was one of a number of aviation accidents of the year, the deadliest of which happened in Nigeria in June, when the Dana Air Flight 992, travelling from Abuja to Lagos, crashed, killing all 153 people on board.

May
- Russian elections: Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev switched positions, and went from being the Prime Minister and President to becoming the President and Prime Minister respectively. Because, you know, change is important.
- The Scream auction: The sale of a pastel version of Edvard Munch’s The Scream set a world record, earning the highest nominal price for a painting at auction. It was sold for US$120 million … a sum that left us with a suspiciously similar facial expression as that of the figure in the painting.
- Tokyo Skytree opened: The world’s tallest self-supporting tower, Tokyo Skytree, which is 634 metres high, was opened to public, and instantly gave all the other towers in the world an inferiority complex.
- The Avengers released: The Avengers raked in $1.5 billion at the box office, becoming the most successful film of the year. The Batman movie The Dark Knight Rises and the Bond film Skyfall eventually ended up second and third on 2012’s highest grossing list respectively.

June
- Solar transit of Venus: The century’s second transit of Venus across the Sun took place and lasted for six hours and 40 minutes. For those of you who missed it, don’t worry; all you have to do is live for another 105 years and you can catch the next one in December 2117.
- IBM Sequoia: The IBM Sequoia (America) replaced the K computer (Japan) as the world’s fastest supercomputer, performing at a speed of 16.32 petaflops, 55 percent faster than the K computer’s 10.51 petaflops. How many petaflops till they rise and start taking over the world, does anyone know? Should we be concerned yet?
- ‘Gangnam Style’: Korean rapper PSY’s infectiously grating hit ‘Gangnam Style’ drilled its way into our brains when it went viral after its video was uploaded on YouTube, eventually taking over the world and becoming a global phenomenon. Its signature dance moves were then performed by lots of people around the world, including singers, actors, athletes, and reportedly even British Prime Minister David Cameron!
- Pakistani government: After Syed Yousuf Raza Gillani’s disqualification and ouster for contempt of court, Raja Pervaiz Ashraf was elected the Prime Minister of Pakistan, continuing our leaders’ incessant game of political musical chairs. As they say, nothing is certain but death, taxes, load shedding, and sporadic changes in the Pakistani government.
- Fifty Shades of Grey's success: Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy may have become the best-selling series of all time on Amazon this year, but it was the massive success of E. L. James’ erotic series that really grabbed the headlines. Fifty Shades of Grey became the fastest selling paperback of all time in Britain, and sold millions of copies all over the world. Frankly, between this and the rise of Honey Boo Boo, we’re not sure humanity should be allowed to continue to exist anymore.

July
- Higgs boson discovery: The much sought after and notoriously elusive Higgs boson may or may not have been observed after experiments at the Large Hadron Collider. This may or may not be a monumental discovery of historic significance. We may or may not be very excited about this.
- Summer Olympics: The 2012 Summer Olympics were held in London, where the best physical specimens of humankind gathered to make the rest of us feel like unfit, lazy slobs. Wrecking our self-esteem the most was American swimmer Michael Phelps, who became the most decorated Olympian ever with a total of 22 medals. Topping the country medal count tallies were 1) United States (46 gold, 29 silver, 29 bronze), 2) China (38 G, 27 S, 23 B), and 3) Great Britain (29 G, 17 S, 19 B), while Pakistan met expectations with our usual tally of 0 gold, 0 silver, and 0 bronze. We did redeem ourselves later in the year though, winning the Asia Kabaddi Cup (November), triumphing at the IBSF World Snooker Championship with Muhammad Asif winning the tournament (December), and finishing third in the Hockey Champions Trophy (December).

August
- Curiosity landing: NASA’s Curiosity rover landed in the Gale Crater on Mars, travelling thousands of miles in search of a friend, only to find that nobody was home. Or, it might’ve gone there to study the planet. Either way, the Martians didn’t show up to welcome it. We’re disappointed.
- Lance Armstrong doping scandal: Good news everyone: now we all have the same number of Tour de France titles as Lance Armstrong does! Bad news Lance Armstrong: you don’t have any Tour de France titles anymore. After being stripped of all his accolades since August 1998 for using performance-enhancing drugs and being banned from professional cycling for life, Armstrong responded by calling the cheating allegations a “witch hunt”, and said he is “finished with this nonsense”.
- Eid: Eid-ul-Fitr was celebrated on one of a number of days after everyone disagreed to agree on the sighting of the moon. Eid-ul-Azha followed, with considerably less controversy, in October.

September
- Innocence of Muslims trailer: The trailer for the film Innocence of Muslims on YouTube caused anger in the Muslim world, and led to protests in many countries, which resulted in a number of deaths. The video was subsequently blocked by YouTube in some countries, while YouTube was blocked by other countries, including Pakistan.
- Factory fires: Fire wrecked havoc multiple times during the year. Fires broke out in factories in Karachi (garment factory) and Lahore (shoe factory), killing more than 300 people and injuring dozens more. Also, a fire at a prison in Honduras killed over 350 inmates (February); a Bangladesh factory fire killed more than 100 workers (November); Brazzaville, the capital of Republic of the Congo, was ravaged by fires after a series of explosions at a munitions dump that left more than 250 people dead; and 79 people died due to rioting and fire at an Egyptian soccer match (February) in the worst incident of football violence in Egyptian history. And as with both fire and rioting, terrorism also continued to make periodic appearances throughout the year and left with a considerable toll.
- iPhone 5 release: Apple released its iPhone 5 smartphone so that everyone could start speculating about iPhone 6. Fans rushed to buy iPhone 5 on the day of its release – presumably because they were concerned it would be outdated by the time they reached the store – then marvelled at the gadget in their hands for about ten seconds before immediately falling into a deep depression over the fact that it wasn’t an iPhone 6. Apple also released the iPad 3 tablet, and then, just for laughs, released the iPad 4 a few months later.

October
- Felix Baumgartner’s space dive: Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s just an Austrian dude skydiving from the edge of space. As part of the Red Bull Stratos space diving project, and with enough sponsor’s logos plastered everywhere to prompt a logo counting contest, daredevil skydiver Felix Baumgartner became the first person to break the sound barrier without any machine assistance, after jumping out of a helium-filled balloon from 39 kilometres (24 miles) into the stratosphere over New Mexico, because that seems like a perfectly sane thing to do. Oh and in case you missed the very subtle marketing, the project was largely sponsored by Red Bull. As they say, one small step for man, one giant leap for advertising!

November
- U.S. Presidential elections: A few months after slow-jamming the news with Jimmy Fallon and thereby certifying himself as the hippest head of state ever, U.S. President Barack Obama won a second term in office, defeating Republican challenger Mitt Romney. A few days later, CIA Director David Petraeus resigned after having an extramarital affair. Yes, a man cheated on his wife; our lack of shock is astounding. Elsewhere, France dumped Nicolas Sarkozy in favour of François Hollande (April); Greece elected a new parliament – twice (May, June) – amidst continuing economic woes; Mali ousted its president in a coup (March); and Kiribati held elections (January) in hopes that we’d notice it exists. Mission accomplished, Kiribati!
- Malala assassination attempt: 14 year old student and education activist Malala Yousafzai was shot and injured in an assassination attempt but survived the attack.
- Operation Pillar of Defence: To make sure that we don’t inadvertently have a year without death and destruction in the Palestinian territories and Israel, the cycle of violence continued in the region, killing nearly 150 people in the process.

December
- 12-12-12: At 12:12pm on the 12th day of the 12th month of the year 2012, nothing noteworthy happened.

- Apocalypse averted: The Mayans lost all credibility as the world failed to come to an end on the 21st of December. So the world didn’t end, but the year now comes to a close. But keep your hopes up, doomsday enthusiasts – maybe the world will end in 2013; keep your fingers crossed!

And with that we say goodbye to 2012, and hope that the next 365 days bring us more joy and less load shedding than the last 366 did. Happy New Year everyone!

- Sameen Amer

Us Magazine, The News - 28th December, 2012

Rewind - a look back at music in 2012

music

- It was a good year to be a Green Day fan. Convinced that releasing one album in a year simply wasn’t cool enough, the pop rockers decided to release three instead.
- It was not a good year to be a Jet fan. The alternative rock band broke up, as did pop group Westlife. And one hit wonders Chumbawamba got knocked down, but didn’t get up again...
- My Chemical Romance released a bunch of singles as part of their Conventional Weapons series.
- Muse were given the task to create the official song for the London Olympics, so they made ‘Survival’, a track that took them to a whole new level of corny. The fact that it seemed more suited for soundtracking a battle than a gaming event is clearly irrelevant.
- The Olympics closing ceremony, A Symphony of British Music, included performances by Pet Shop Boys, Madness, Elbow, George Michael, Annie Lennox, Spice Girls, Take That, and The Who.
- Blur released the brilliant ‘Under the Westway’. Not many people noticed.
- Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj, Keith Urban, Usher, Shakira, Tom Jones, will.i.am, Jessie J, Britney Spears, Demi Lovato, and just about everyone who has ever sung a note in public became a judge on one of a gazillion reality TV singing contests, as the quest to produce more mediocrity for the masses continued.
- Singing superstar Whitney Houston passed away unexpectedly at the age of 48. We also said farewell to the brilliant Adam Yauch (Beastie Boys), the Queen of Disco Donna Summer, singer Etta James, the Monkees’ Davy Jones, and the Bee Gees singer Robin Gibb.
- Adele won six Grammys, recorded the theme song for the new Bond movie Skyfall, had a baby, and continued to dazzle us with her awesomeness.
- Taylor Swift had another high-profile, short-lived relationship (this time with Conor Kennedy), and made an album about all her other high-profile, short-lived relationships. She also tried to beatbox; it was embarrassing.
- PSY’s ‘Gangnam Style’ became an international hit, and turned into a song that we will never forget ... though we will try very, very hard to.
- Carly Rae Jepsen wanted us to call her Maybe. We still prefer calling her Carly Rae Jepsen though.
- Lady Gaga still didn’t go back to her home planet.
- Madonna continued to have a career, for better or for worse. Mostly for the worse.
- Nicki Minaj became the most influential female rapper of all time, proving once and for all that the world’s quality threshold has fallen down a bottomless pit.
- Ke$ha released her second album, which was great to listen to if you like listening to terrible music.
- Miley Cyrus got a haircut.
- Rihanna released her seventh album, and embarked on a mini tour, performing seven shows, in seven countries, in seven days.
- Christina Aguilera released new music. She probably enjoyed making the album; we just didn’t enjoy listening to it.
- Unlike last year, Kim Kardashian did not release a song this year. Our ears were grateful for this.
- Katy Perry shared a part of herself with us in a 3D movie.
- With her propaganda machine working overtime, Lana Del Rey gave a really bad live performance on SNL, and then somehow became very famous. It’s sad how the world works.
- Last year’s Making Mirrors continued to make Gotye a worldwide success.
- fun. were fun to listen to.
- Liv Tyler mangled an INXS song, but looked hot doing it.
- P!nk told us the truth about love.
- Jessie J revealed that she has never heard of PJ Harvey, which is kinda ironic because we wish we had never heard of Jessie J.
- Nickelback frontman Chad Kroeger and singer Avril Lavigne got engaged. Here’s hoping they don’t make any music together ... or separately either.
- Girls Aloud reunited.
- Spice GirlsViva Forever! showed us what happens when you turn the world’s weakest discography into a musical.
- The news of Kevin Richardson rejoining the Backstreet Boys reminded everyone that the Backstreet Boys still exist for some reason. Feeling left out, 98 Degrees, who had previously had the decency to break up, decided to reunite.
- Paul McCartney collaborated with Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic, and Pat Smear - the surviving members of Nirvana - for the song ‘Cut Me Some Slack’ that was debuted at the 12-12-12 benefit concert in aid of victims of hurricane Sandy.
- Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez broke up. Millions of teenage girls rejoiced. But then the two reportedly got back together, cutting the celebration short.
- One Direction made it hip to be a manufactured product again.
- Calvin Harris triumphed with 18 Months.
- Jack White released an album. It was unsurprisingly good.
- No Doubt released an album. It was unsurprisingly bad.
- Tom Cruise tried to sing. We think we might know why Katie left him ...
- John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John reunited to make an awkward Christmas album for charity.
- The Fray released new music to the delight of TV drama producers everywhere.
- Jay-Z met Ellen Grossman on the subway.
- Shifting his allegiance from canine to feline, Snoop Dogg changed his name to Snoop Lion, and also performed with a hologram of Tupac Shakur at the Coachella Music Festival.
- Fiona Apple postponed her tour to spend time with her dying dog, and melted our hearts in the process.
- The Beach Boys came together to mark their 50th anniversary and released That’s Why God Made the Radio, their first album of original material in 20 years.
- Skrillex pleased the fans of electronic music and dubstep, while giving the rest of us a headache.
- Bruce Springsteen continued to be awesome.
- Linkin Park released a new album. It hit all the clichés we love.
- INXS decided to call it a day, approximately 15 years after they should have.
- And acts including Keane, Hoobastank, Maroon 5, John Mayer, Matchbox Twenty, Mumford & Sons, Owl City, Sixpence None the Richer, The Darkness, and The Killers released new albums, much to the joy of the record buying public.

- S.A.

Us Magazine, The News - 28th December, 2012

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Argo

movie review: in the picture

Argo ****1/2

Starring: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall, Victor Garber, Kyle Chandler, and Chris Messina
Directed by: Ben Affleck
Tagline: The movie was fake. The mission was real.

In the midst of the 1979 Iranian revolution, six members of the U.S. Embassy staff evaded capture by protestors and sought refuge at the house of the Canadian ambassador, where they remained in hiding for weeks. The story of their rescue forms the basis of Argo, an exciting thriller that effortlessly engrosses the viewer for its two hour runtime.

The tension is palpable from the get go and never lets up. Argo recounts the tale as the six diplomats flee the American Embassy in Tehran that is taken over by protestors and its staff taken hostage, and then find themselves holed up in the residence of the Canadian ambassador (Victor Garber) with no way to go anywhere because of the widespread unrest and anti-American sentiments running high in the country. Back in the U.S., the authorities struggle to find a way to bring the personnel back. Days turn into weeks and no rescue appears to be forthcoming, until CIA agent Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) dreams up a seemingly bizarre scheme - it involves false identities and a fake Hollywood science-fiction thriller!

In an era where Star Wars has captivated the world, the development of a new sci-fi film is perhaps as good a cover story as any. Embraced as the “best bad idea” on the table, the plan is set into motion. The script for a film named Argo is selected, and with the details hammered out, Mendez sets off for Iran, posing as a producer scouting for locations, with the American diplomats disguised as the film’s crew; his mission is to pass them off as Canadian filmmakers, get them on a plane, and bring them back home.

Having previously directed solid projects like Gone Baby Gone (2007) and The Town (2010), it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Ben Affleck knows how to deliver an impressive film, and with Argo he doesn’t disappoint. Affleck skilfully puts together the action taking place in disparate settings, creating a seamless narrative that never feels incongruent or disjoint. And it helps that he’s working with a capable crew. Chris Terrio’s screenplay and Rodrigo Prieto’s vintage-looking cinematography come together harmoniously to create a smooth canvas for the events to unfold; you know the eventual outcome of the caper, but the tension remains relentless, and the Aaron Sorkin-esque quality of the proceedings works well for the film. The acting across the board is top notch. The brilliant Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, and Victor Garber are all reliably proficient, and their performances are appropriately nuanced. And while some might fault Affleck for giving himself the lead role, there is no cause for complaint here as he easily pulls off the part with casual confidence.

Grippingly tense and darkly comic, Argo delivers intelligently and consistently, and even though it does fall victim to a few unnecessary contrivances at the end, it never fails to be exciting. The movie lets you feel the urgency and the panic of its subjects, and for the most part doesn’t drown you in a sea of sensationalized frenzy. Argo is swiftly paced and well acted, with a smart script and competent direction, and is definitely one of the standout films of the year.

– Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 16th December, 2012

“Diving rhythms, constant bliss, spacing out, reverb, and sunshine”

interview

//orangenoise discuss their debut album, A Journey to the Heart of Matter

If you have an eclectic musical palette and haven’t heard of //orangenoise yet, then you need to rectify this oversight immediately. The psychedelic shoegazers - or chappalgazers, as they prefer - from Karachi made an impression on listeners with their appearance on Uth Records, and now their debut album, A Journey to the Heart of Matter, impressively displays their talent.

A Journey to the Heart of Matter is an experimental marriage of different genres. The most apt description of its sound, according to band member Daniel Arthur Panjwaneey, is “textured”. It exudes “driving rhythms, constant bliss, spacing out, reverb, and sunshine, all part of the formation of a new star,” says Talha Asim Wynne. Why were they drawn to this sound? “It was more like the sounds chose us,” he explains. “We only played whatever was coming to the heart and mind; it all ended up sounding like it should.” “Doing what you love is about having as much fun as you can,” adds Daniel, “and we enjoy what we’re doing. It wasn’t anything we made a decision on. Anyone who has been to some of our live shows may have experienced bits of jazzy somethings amongst some of the noise in the past too.”

The album’s cover is both artistic and very expressive once you delve a little deeper into the concept behind the imagery. “It is an image of the particle collision (white stuff) that takes place inside the Hadron Collider,” he explains, “which has been overlaid on some of my photography. We designed the album cover ourselves.”

The album art isn’t the only thing the band members did themselves; much of the recording process was also a home effort. “The album took about one year in the making,” tells Daniel. “Initially we had recorded the first demos in the summer of 2011 track by track, conformed to a metronome and put down basic structures. We kept fiddling around with the mixes, but it just didn’t seem to fit right. Earlier this year we finally figured out a proper setup and system to record the drums, guitars, and bass together live and without a metronome as one-takes; those takes ended up becoming the entire rhythm section, after which we overdubbed a layer of synth, vocals, and additional guitars, and then mixed and mastered all on a trusty, dusty laptop at home,” he says about Journey’s recording. “We finally agreed on a setup where we recorded a basic “juice” layer which consisted of the drums, bass, and guitars being recorded at the same time as a one take jam to keep the essence of our live sound alive,” Talha says. “This technique worked really well with us and we ended up recording the entire album like this. It was mostly done at home - everything, from recording to the final mastering.”

The album’s release was also independent, and the set was made available online as a ‘name your price’ download on the music platform Bandcamp, a strategy that many indie bands use to spread their music and reach a wider audience. “Being a band that isn’t signed to a label, we manage everything ourselves,” elucidates Daniel, “so in terms of the cheapest way to do this, digital is the way to go! Besides, music will always end up on the Internet and this is music that is meant to be shared. We do intend on and want to make a physical release of the album, and since this is, once again, something we’ll need to do on our own and need money for, it’s only going to be possible with support from people by coming to shows or donating towards the album online. It’s a ‘name your price’ release on Bandcamp, and you may also enter 0 to download it for free; we don’t mind either way! Share it with everyone!”

A Journey to the Heart of Matter comprises of 11 songs, each of which are special for the band. “They are all our babies,” says Talha. “These songs have made it so far and they’re out there now. I guess it’s because they all have a particular significance, each song in its own way.” The tracks that make up the album are shrouded in layers that take multiple listens to become apparent. The group cites ‘I Don’t Know’ as the most immediate song on the record as it “kind of lays down what you’re about to go experience with the rest of the album”, and they think ‘Hopeful Creatures’ is the most different and experimental piece on the set. “‘Hopeful Creatures is the last song we ended up composing for the album and a very late inclusion,” reveals Daniel. “The timing and progression was quite a workout. Also, three of us ended up singing on the track.” “It has a weird time signature switch,” elaborates Talha, “and we got Danial [Hyatt] to sing on it as well. It’s definitely something we haven’t done before.” ‘Hopeful Creatures’ was also the toughest to perfect for the band, “mostly because of the odd time signatures and shifts in key that occur during the track.” Conversely, the song ‘Children’ was the easiest to make, and it only needed one take to come together. “The second track, ‘Children’, was a track we hadn’t jammed out properly, but we had an idea of what it was going to be like as far as the structure was concerned,” continues Talha. “So when time came to jam it out, we just happened to get it right on the first take. That was a moment of relief and joy for the band, I feel.”

The one song on the album they most want everyone to listen to is ‘Clipped’. “It’s probably the easiest to hook you in and sing along to,” thinks Daniel. Talha agrees; “it has to be either ‘Clipped’ or ‘I Don’t Know’, because those two package the whole //orangenoise deal pretty well in one song. Also they might incite you to look further into the band’s sound.” But with a vibe so different, where does A Journey to the Heart of Matter stand in the current Pakistani music scene? “It’s a tiny speck on a great new generation of music coming out in the country (hopefully),” replies Daniel. “I guess [it stands] in the corner somewhere. You’ll obviously have to dig to find it; it’s nowhere near the surface,” says Talha.

So if you haven’t heard //orangenoise’s music yet, then now would be a good time to “dig”. Download their album - it’s easily available online - and, as per Daniel’s suggestion, “enjoy listening to it, repeatedly if you need to”. Better still, the band recommends you see them live. “Our live shows are better than the album,” professes Talha, “and I’d suggest fans of the album to definitely come out to our shows and discover other fantastic bands in the Karachi circuit and beyond.”

- By Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 16th December, 2012

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Faakhir stages a ‘fashionable’ comeback with ‘Kho Jaaoon’

interview

Singer Faakhir Mehmood has been a well-known presence in the Pakistani music scene since entering the industry two decades ago. The performer who first saw fame with his band Awaz in the '90s has since established a thriving solo career and has a number of successful albums under his belt.

Last year, the singer returned to the music scene, following an extended break, with his new album Jee Chaahay, making a comeback after taking some time off for personal reasons. “Yeah, I took a sabbatical, and it lasted longer than I'd have thought,” he concedes. “It started when I lost a loved one, and that changed my entire perception towards life. By the time I completed Jee Chaahay, the dynamics of album releases had changed worldwide significantly over a period of time due to digital downloads; now singles have become the norm. However, I still went ahead and released a full length album to mark my comeback.”

Now he is releasing the video for his song 'Kho Jaaoon', which stars Meera and the Veet Miss Super Model finalists. The clip has been directed by Sohail Javed, with designer Fahad Hussayn responsible for the wardrobe. “'Kho Jaaoon' was actually picked [for the video] by Frieha [Altaf] to associate it with the Veet Super Model contest that she's recently produced,” says the singer. Frieha also chose Sohail Javed to direct the video, and the Veet girls and Meera were all “chosen, contracted, and coordinated by Frieha” as well.

The song, 'Kho Jaaoon' is a ballad that sees Faakhir create a sound that is different from his regular pop arrangements. “'Kho Jaaoon' is a romantic ballad, and its audio went through wholesale changes after I did not like its earlier music arrangement which sounded very "house",” Faakhir reveals, “so I sat again on its music and changed its sound to what it is now. Its concept is straight forward: serenade the one you love, and celebrate the beauty, aura, and effect that person has on you.”

The concept of the video came about as a result of brainstorming and went through some changes. “Frieha and I had a few sessions to work out the concept for the video and actually ended up shooting more than one scenarios,” he divulges. “However, the final edit seems to have eliminated that complicated storyline we once agreed upon, and looks like a straight forward beauty shots oriented music video.”

Faakhir says the idea of working in collaboration with the Veet Miss Super Model contest came about because “sharing random ideas with friends sometime results in projects like these.” This isn't the first time he is working with a sponsor, and he says he is comfortable with the idea of doing sponsored assignments. “I have worked on quite a few sponsored projects in my career,” he tells, “and I feel it's a synergy of various forces that sometimes result in a win-win situation for all. I'm not at all opposed to working on such projects.”

The singer has also been busy touring, and has been working on ideas for new material as well. “Alongside my hectic touring and travelling for live concerts, I'm constantly working on new ideas and songs, because an artist cannot stem the flow of ideas, creativity, and compositions that come naturally to him. To be honest, it's a very enjoyable process,” says the singer. “I'm working on a couple of projects at present. Let's see which one comes out first.”

- By Sameen Amer

Instep Today, The News - 12th December, 2012

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Muse and the melting pot of genres

album review

The 2nd Law shows that the group can reinvent themselves

Band: Muse
Album: The 2nd Law

Last year, in a message on his Twitter account, Muse frontman Matthew Bellamy described his band’s new material as a “christian gangsta rap jazz odyssey, some ambient rebellious dubstep and face melting metal flamenco cowboy psychedelia”. The post may have been in jest, but in spirit it almost comes close to describing their new album, The 2nd Law. No, there isn’t any “gangsta rap” on it, but the album really is a melting pot of genres, creating amalgamated electronic metal flavoured progressive rock with an occasional tinge of dubstep. Yes, at times it’s almost as peculiar as that sounds.

On ‘Unsustainable’, the penultimate song of the album, for instance, a female voice layered over an electronic landscape spends the better part of the track reminding us that “if no energy enters or leaves an isolated system, the entropy of that system increases”, quoting the second law of thermodynamics, which the album’s title references. The last track of the set, ‘Isolated System’, tells us how “in an isolated system, entropy can only increase”. Put together, what we have here is perhaps the best science lesson since They Might Be Giants taught us that “the sun is a mass of incandescent gas”. So if nothing else, the album at least serves as a high school science refresher course.

Luckily, though, there is much else.

Before it wanders into dubstep-adjacent territory with its second last track, the album delivers some more symphonic rock, even though it displays a more synth-heavy Muse than we’ve previously seen. It starts in typical Muse fashion with the epic ‘Supremacy’, which then leads to the standout second track ‘Madness’, a delicious slice of electronic rock, and goes on to yield songs like the smooth ‘Explorers’ and the rocking ‘Liquid State’, which is one of the two songs on the record that were penned by bassist Christopher Wolstenholme. And the cacophony of the corny ‘Survival’, which had the dubious honour of being the official song for the London 2012 Olympics, also appears on the album.

If you’re used to playing “spot the inspiration” when listening to Muse tracks, then The 2nd Law will give you plenty of opportunities to do so. Something that is often stated as a criticism of Muse is the various influences that are obvious in their work, and this assertion also applies to their new material. You can distinctly hear a number of influences throughout the album; for instance, shades of Queen, Radiohead, and U2 appear in songs like ‘Madness’, ‘Animals’, and ‘Big Freeze’ respectively. So that critique won’t stop haunting the band with this album.

For the most part, The 2nd Law is modern, crisp, and well executed. And with Muse, you wouldn’t expect anything less. Yet it somehow isn’t nearly as exciting as their previous releases. Nothing here hits quite as heavily as, say, ‘Stockholm Syndrome’, and the grandiosity of songs like ‘Knights of Cydonia’ isn’t as manifest here. The record is, perhaps, a bit disjoint, and the pieces of different styles thrown in sometimes do not come together as cohesively as one would’ve hoped.

To their credit though, Muse have tried something different and journeyed into an expansive territory that traverses a number of genres, which is a fact they must be commended for. Instead of getting comfortable with their vibe, they have experimented with their sound and created something that is clearly different from their previous releases, without losing themselves completely in the process. The 2nd Law shows that the group can reinvent themselves and present their work in a number of hues and tints. Ultimately this is still Muse, just in a different shade, and whether this is the Muse you like or not will depend entirely on your musical leanings.

- By Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 9th December, 2012

Sunday, December 02, 2012

The second coming of No Doubt

album review

Band:  No Doubt
Album: Push and Shove

After an extended hiatus that saw them undertake solo ventures, side projects, and collaborations, the members of No Doubt reunite to give us their sixth album, the long awaited Push and Shove, which comes over a decade after its predecessor Rock Steady (2001). The group first made it big with their 1995 opus Tragic Kingdom, but it appears as if they have since been shedding the very things that made them stand out; they have moved gradually from a more ska punk and rock oriented sound to synthpop, a direction that became most apparent with Rock Steady. Now Push and Shove continues where they left off 11 years ago, and is closer in vibe to their latter work as well as Stefani's solo material than it is to Tragic Kingdom and the sound they initially embraced with their first few releases.

'Settle Down', the band's funky lead single off the new record, serves as a promising first taster from the album, as its effervescent spirit exudes the energy that is distinctly No Doubt. The rest of the album, however, is far less remarkable. Songs like the title track 'Push and Shove' (which features dancehall reggae artist Busy Signal and Diplo's musical project Major Lazer) give a fair try to emulate the band's reggae drenched ska pop spirit, but others, like 'Gravity', 'Undercover', and 'Undone', as well as much of the album's mid-tempo fodder, are more nondescript. Not only do the songs sound too similar to each other but they seem too generic. Anyone from Katy Perry to Fergie could have used this material to similar, or perhaps even better, effect.

Yes, they're playing it safe and sticking to what they're already done before, but a lot has changed since No Doubt last tried this sound, and now most of this material comes off as generic and throwaway. Other than a few standout tracks, much of the record fails to make an impact on first listen. And while no one expects lyrical genius from dance pop ditties, there can't possibly be a decent excuse for any band to rhyme “hit and run” with “yummy yummy yum”; being playful is one thing, being inane is quite another.

Overall, there just isn't enough No Doubt in the new No Doubt album. The more they move away from their ska punk roots, the more edge they lose. While Stefani has never been a great singer, it was her distinctive style, sass, and affectations that made her one of the most iconic front women of the '90s. That distinctiveness has been diluted on Push and Shove. It lacks the energy and wackiness that made previous singles like 'Just a Girl' and 'Trapped in a Box' so memorable. The songs on this album lack both the immediacy and endurance of their previous hits. Push and Shove could've used a bit of the crispness of the albums that first put No Doubt on the map and it isn't really essential for anyone but their most ardent followers' music collections. Fans of radio friendly, generic electro-pop will enjoy it, and if harmless fun is what you're looking for, then Push and Shove will meet your requirements, but if you've previously dismissed No Doubt as nothing more than a glossy, stylish pop outfit with little substance, then this album won't make you change your mind.

- By Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 2nd December, 2012

Stolen

movie review

Stolen **

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Josh Lucas, Danny Huston, Malin Åkerman, M.C. Gainey, Sami Gayle, Mark Valley
Directed by: Simon West
Tagline: 12 hours. $10 million. 1 kidnapped daughter.

After serving eight years in prison for a bank heist gone awry, a former thief, Will Montgomery (Nicolas Cage), hopes to reconnect with his daughter (Sami Gayle) upon his release from jail. But unknown to him, his old partner Vincent (Josh Lucas) is holding a grudge. Convinced that Will still has the $10 million from the robbery, Vincent kidnaps Will's daughter, locks her in the trunk of his cab, and demands the money as ransom, as Will tries to rescue her while being pursued by the agents who put him away.

So a father who will stop at nothing to get his daughter back? Sounds familiar? Yes, Stolen's plotline brings 2008's runaway hit Taken to mind, but the execution makes Taken look like a masterpiece in comparison. As far as action movies go, this is as by-the-numbers as it gets. Stolen moves along at a reasonably swift pace; bank robberies, skirmishes, car chases, shootouts … there's plenty of action thrown into the proceedings. What's missing, though, is a decent story, a good script, and any sense of novelty or suspense.

If the filmmakers' intent was to see how many clichés can be crammed into one and a half hours of film, then Stolen is a job well done. Nothing happens at any point in the movie that hasn't transpired a number of times in other action flicks. Originality and creativity don't even bother to make an appearance in the movie, and neither does logic. And the ending is so preposterous that it's simply absurd, even by the relatively modest standards of such films.

Its recognizable cast can't really help the project much; Cage's act is weary, and while Josh Lucas is on hand to deliver an over the top madcap performance, there isn't much anyone could've possibly done with this tired material to make it the least bit exciting or convincing. It is sad to see the director and star of 1997's cult hit Con Air reunite to produce this kind of twaddle, and it's depressing to see that the one time Academy Award winner Nicolas Cage has now come to this. His recent projects have included a deplorable string of films, including Season of the Witch (2011), Drive Angry (2011), and Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012), and it is fairly obvious that he needs to start being more picky about the projects he selects if he wants to have any credibility left with the audience.

To be fair, Stolen does make a half-hearted effort to be amusing and entertaining, but is ultimately let down by the lack of a good story and script, and an absolute dearth of originality. You've seen it all before, and you've seen it done better. The movie will be best enjoyed by those who have a very high tolerance for ludicrous plot developments and/or possess the skill to find amusement in obviously cheesy drivel, but Stolen's collage of movie clichés will ultimately come off as nothing more than unnecessary and forgettable.

- Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 2nd December, 2012

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The brilliance of Green Day

album review

There's no shortage of catchy tunes on ¡Uno!, as Billie Joe Armstrong and co. unleash a rapid-fire punk assault in the form of 12 tracks laden with sharp power pop hooks that speak of love, alienation, and wistfulness

Band: Green Day
Album: ¡Uno!

Everyone who has been following Green Day since the band's inception in the late '80s knows that the group has received both adoration and derision over the years. Their brand of punk rock has pop running through its veins which has made them popular with the mainstream audience, even though their authenticity has often been called into question by punk purists. But it is a testament to their staying power that more than two decades after they first joined forces, the group from California still remains both popular and relevant, thanks in part to their resurgence following the release of the rock opera that formed their seventh studio album American Idiot in 2004.

Their rock opera self-indulgence, however, may have overstayed its welcome with 21st Century Breakdown (2009), leaving a question mark over the future direction the band would take. What exactly do you do after releasing two rock operas in a row?

You release three new studio albums in the span of four months, of course.

The ¡Uno!, ¡Dos!, ¡Tre! trilogy sees Green Day undertake an ambitious project, and reunites them with longtime producer Rob Cavallo. The first instalment of the series, ¡Uno!, takes the group back to the sound that initially made them successful, offering a set of songs that give a casual nod to the likes of The Clash, The Who, and the Ramones. The songs here would be at home on one of the band's earlier albums. The flag bearers of pop punk are back to what they initially set out to do; it's Green Day sans the pretence of their last few releases, making songs that will be hard to resist for fans that fell for the band in the '90s.

There's no shortage of catchy tunes on ¡Uno!, as Billie Joe Armstrong and co. unleash a rapid-fire punk assault in the form of 12 tracks laden with sharp power pop hooks that speak of love, alienation, and wistfulness. From the brisk opener 'Nuclear Family' to the old school anthem 'Oh Love' that brings the record to a close, the attack is both immediate and relentless. The anthemic 'Carpe Diem' is perhaps the most immediate tune on the record, and 'Let Yourself Go' is possibly the most contagious. 'Kill the DJ' channels Franz Ferdinand but adds profane recklessness to the mix; 'Troublemaker' urges you to clap along; and songs like 'Angel Blue' and 'Rusty James' hark back to their Nimrod (1997) era sound.

Some songs are perhaps a tad too reminiscent to a couple of tracks from their back catalogue, and at times it may feel like they're simply rehashing old tunes, but that is also why the album will work for those who loved the band in their pre-American Idiot days. ¡Uno! may seem predictable and dutiful, and it does miss the nuances of their more recent work, but its sense of deja vu also works in its favour, with its strong nostalgic rush offering a sort of comfort to its listeners. And it is part of a trilogy (with ¡Dos! and ¡Tre! set to follow in November and December respectively), so its overall effect will become more apparent when all three discs are out, and it will be interesting to see how it fits in with the complete project.

For now though, it's safe to say that ¡Uno! is a set of fast paced and reliable tunes that combine catchy melodies with tight instrumentation and make good use of the group's pop punk sensibilities while trying to recapture their early spirit. This isn't an ambitious, grandiose rock opera. This isn't an experimental record. And this certainly isn't a cerebral album. ¡Uno! is simply an album you can (and are meant to) enjoy. It's catchy, contagious, and fun, and it is what it is by design. And while it sees them take a step away from their politically charged rock opera projects, ¡Uno!'s hit of nostalgia is likely to make it a treat for their long time fans.

- By Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 25th November, 2012

Friday, November 23, 2012

“Individual motives can always take over, and they did…”

interview

Following vocalist Junaid Khan's exit from Lahore based rock band Call, the group's guitarist Xulfi shares his side of the story with Instep Today and talks about the future of the band.

Instep Today: Why did Junaid decide to leave Call?
Xulfi: I will not really call this “Junaid leaving Call” as him not being part of the band anymore was the next logical step in what actually happened. He has a different career going for him, and I believe now he also feels that whatever he wants to do from here on, he wants to do solo. Everyone has the right to think like this. Sadly, people do not always decide keeping those values in mind that come with working together. Otherwise they would make different decisions. But probably that is how it works for most people.

Instep Today: How do you feel about this decision?
Xulfi:
Call has quite a history. It has existed since 1994. Survived the underground scene till 2002; band members came, band members left, but Call still lived on proudly where other underground bands called it a day. The band has gone through rough times but has still existed so we are used to this, and all this tough time has made me war hardened too. I have experienced band breaking up in EP, and I have also seen the same band merging back without me, their primary songwriter, and I have still braved the situation, so the future doesn't scare or intimidate me. I will keep doing what I do best, making great music.
Also, Call went mainstream when I auditioned Junaid for the band's vocalist role in 2002, and the band, including its individuals, have achieved a lot since then and have carved multiple careers out of their roles in the band. Now it was time to choose a primary career out of those that had risen out of Call. I picked Call, he didn't, and I didn't expect him to choose Call either, hence I am neither feeling good nor bad about it. Indifferent? Yes, because I really believe in the music I make, and I plan on doing that for the rest of my life.

Instep Today: Junaid actually left the band a while ago. Why was the official announcement not made till now?
Xulfi:
Sultan and I had left it to him to announce because he didn't want to be a part of the band anymore, but due to reasons unknown to me, he didn't announce. The reason why we left it up to him was that this news breaks up very decently for him as his acting career had just started and controversy at that point might have affected that negatively. But as we saw that he is not making the announcement, even though he had informed us officially about it, and Call had to move on, rock the stage, perform shows, so we had to make the announcement. The band had missed quite a few concerts and had suffered due to this uncertain situation in the last few months and as these concerts are a big part of a musician's living, we had to move on and continue performing again.

Instep Today: Are you still in touch with Junaid and on friendly terms with him?
Xulfi:
No. And that's natural too. I had worked hard to carve out a style for composing and arranging music for his style of vocals, and one really then expects that your band mates acknowledges that and strives hard for the band's success. But individual motives can always take over, and they did. It's tricky business, the music scene. I have done projects in Bollywood, but I've done them all under the name of Call, as that is my one and only identity when someone sees me play the guitar or sing. And these Bollywood projects weren't different from how Call had always worked, with me composing, arranging, and writing most of the music. But when I heard there is a solo album on its way from Junaid, which the band didn't know of, I guess that was the point where the trust was shaken, and I don't think I want/need or feel like finding a neutral ground to retain some part of that friendship. Yes, I have had an amazing time with him, as a friend, as a band mate, and we have done some amazing shows all over the world. But now, things had been tough for musicians all over Pakistan and as a result, this was a difficult time for Call as well. This was the time when all the band mates needed to stand up for what Call has been to them, for them, and should have strived to make it even bigger. When one doesn't acknowledge, nature has its way of balancing, one should always remember. But you know how they say there comes a time when one has to choose between what's right and what's easy (J. K. Rowling). I chose the former.

Instep Today: What does this mean for Call and the band's future? And have you found a replacement for Junaid yet?
Xulfi:
I would like that to remain a surprise for everyone. You know how the news spreads, and I would want to play my cards very intelligently here.

Instep Today: Call is now performing with (Roxen vocalist) Mustafa Zahid in live shows. Is he the new, permanent Call vocalist?
Xulfi:
Musti and I go a long way back. We had been friends since his band recorded their debut album at my studio. I have always loved the energy and power he has in his voice, and that sits in nicely with my style of songwriting. Because of the time I have spent with Musti while recording his vocals and helping him arrange his band's songs, he understands my style perfectly, and that's why he has merged in very smoothly with Call. And yes, it's not the first time Musti, Sultan, and I are on the same team. We have played cricket together, so we know what teamwork means and what it means to be on the same team. We have been performing in shows together now quite frequently, and I personally invite you to come enjoy our music at the concert and witness Call's reenergized and intense performance.
Besides that, as I am a music producer, I have helped a lot of vocalists (both band members and non band members) to sing better both in the studio and live. So even if Call, at some point in time, needs a new vocalist, I will train him to be the best at what he does. And it's not that I haven't done this before now.

Instep Today: Is there anything else you want to say about the split?
Xulfi:
I do not know if things happen for a reason, or without one. But I do know, once they happen, they happen. That's the truth I want to embrace. Lastly, I wish Junaid the best of luck in his career and hope he prospers.

Instep Today: Are you guys working on any new material?
Xulfi:
Yes, we are. Some of it is already on display in our concerts.

Instep Today: What's next for Call? And for you? Future plans?
Xulfi:
Another Call album. Music video. Loads of concerts. Music projects across the border. There is a lot to come. Keep your faith with Call alive. We are loyal to our fans and we respect them. These people have loved our music over the years. We acknowledge how our listeners have made our concerts the liveliest of concerts ever. The sight of our fans banging their heads to our music, screaming our names, never wanting us to stop, singing along to every song of ours; trust me, these are enough reasons for Call to keep itself connected, forever.

- By Sameen Amer

 Instep Today, The News - 23rd November, 2012

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

“I feel extremely sad that we had to come to this point.”

interview

Junaid Khan talks to Instep Today about his decision to leave Call and his future plans

Call recently announced vocalist Junaid Khan's departure from the band, but the news shouldn't really come as a surprise to those who have been following the singer's career. Junaid has been making strides as both an actor and a solo artist in the last few months. He has been working on his own music this year and also has a budding acting career, starring in a number of television dramas. In a chat with Instep Today, the singer talks about his decision to part with the band, urges his fans to respect his choice, and promises to continue expressing himself through his music.

Instep Today: Why did you decide to leave Call?
Junaid Khan:
Well, I believe in any partnership, the individuals have particular roles and they stick to their respective roles so that the business runs smoothly, but then if they try to jump into others' roles for personal gains, then conflicts happen. Similarly, a band is a partnership too in which every band member has a role, like one is a vocalist, others are guitarists, bass player, drummer, etc, and if they try to grasp other's role then you disturb the equilibrium and hence raise conflicts. Most bands have broken up for this reason in Pakistan, which is quite unfortunate.

Instep Today: How do you feel about this decision?
Junaid:
I feel extremely sad that we had to come to this point because I was a part of Call much before Xulfi and Sultan joined in, and Call was and will be like a baby to me, but now I think it was time that I let this baby go. I am really, really sorry to all our fans who have been supporting Call throughout, and I am sure that they'll be missing seeing the fun that we used to have onstage and while making music, but I will be requesting them to understand this decision and keep supporting us all and believing in us. I love my fans as they have loved our expression for the past decade. I can never repay them, but I'll try to come up with great melodies like we gave them before. We didn't disappoint them before and I'll surely try not to disappoint them in the future as well with my music.

Instep Today: You actually left the band a while ago. Why was the official announcement not made till now?
Junaid:
I made the decision just around two months back, but we didn't announce it at that point as I was asked by the band members to rethink the decision, but I requested them to agree with this as it was better for all of us and they were kind enough to agree.

Instep Today: How did the other band members react to this decision?
Junaid:
Well, of course no one would like to end a partnership which gave us such a wonderful experience, but I was of the thought that its better to let it go now than make room for us to disturb our relationship both personally and professionally. I will miss the wonderful time and experiences that we cherished all these years. We spent almost 10 years together and had our ups and downs, and I believe all these ups and downs teach you a lesson to learn from and improve yourselves as human beings. We three band members individually are much more mature and stronger now, and it is because of the life that Call gave us, and I thank the band members for sharing that life with me.

Instep Today: Are you still in touch with the other band members and on friendly terms with them?
Junaid:
Yes, of course. We keep discussing the projects that individually we all are occupied in. Every relationship has its ups and downs, but what matters is that we keep respecting others till the end. Beyond all these partnerships, we are human beings and what makes us superior is the element of respect and love that we have for others.

Instep Today: You have been working on your solo album. How is that going? How soon will it be out?
Junaid:
I am in the production stage these days. The songs have been written and arranged. 'Keh Do' is about to be released, and next will be followed soon. For me, every song is special and conveys experiences of my life and I want to keep sharing them with my fans. Whether it was 'Sab Bhula Ke' or 'So Close So Distant', I have been expressing my emotions through my songs and I'll keep doing so.

Instep Today: Can you please tell us about your future plans? What are you planning to do next?
Junaid:
Well, musically, as I said, 'Keh Do' is about to be released, and I'll be kicking off my solo shows within the next week or so which I am really excited about. I'll be releasing the show dates on my page (www.facebook.com/junaidkhanoffial on Facebook and @calljunaidkhan on Twitter) so do watch out for those. Plus on the television front, I am shooting two new TV projects; I'll be releasing the titles along with the cast real soon too.

- By Sameen Amer

Instep Today, The News - 21st November, 2012

Sunday, November 18, 2012

In conversation with Basheer & the Pied Pipers

interview

Indie band discusses new album, Basheer

If you have any concerns about the state/future of the Pakistani music industry, then just explore the efforts of our independent musicians and you will be instantly reassured. Our indie scene harbours immense talent and is producing some very interesting work, as artists experiment with an array of sounds and genres. 

One such act is Basheer & the Pied Pipers. The group that comprises of Salman Younas Khan and Saad Munzar came together a few years ago and released their album, Basheer, earlier this year. Their unique sound has been earning them rave reviews ever since.

“[Basheer & the Pied Pipers] is mainly Saad and I,” says Salman. The group formed when Salman “came to Karachi in 2008 for school” and have been playing together since then. “We write and record all the stuff ourselves,” he continues. “Saad handles bass and guitar duties, and I handle samples, synthesizers, and drums, but there is a large degree of overlap. When we play live we have a group of great friends that help us out, each of them being brilliant musicians.”

The duo, who describe their music as “primarily instrumental, with sparse vocals”, gave us a taste of their recorded sound with their EP, paperclouds, which was released last year, and easily convinced listeners to take notice. “We played a few shows which really drove us to record our original material,” they reveal. “There were a few bands here playing a lot of their own stuff and it was really impressive. We picked up a cheap mixer and an interface and recorded our first EP, paperclouds, in 2011. We started recording Basheer right after that.”

Basheer, their first full-length release, is a 10-track collection of songs that play with a range of sounds, creating a blend that is both unique and impressive. “We started writing as soon as we got done with the EP we released last year,” says Salman speaking of the process of creating Basheer. “And after we had the writing process done, we just did what we did last time, recording drums in a soundproof lecture hall. We were on the strictest of budgets too, so a lot of duct tape was involved. Then everything else was laid down in either of our rooms.” “We live in the same building so it was pretty convenient.” adds Saad. “We knew we wanted our full length release to be more live band oriented. We jammed quite extensively for this one.”

As a debut album, Basheer is surprisingly confident, even though its makers are reluctant to discuss it. Instead of talking about the sound of their album, they'd rather the music speak for itself. “We really wouldn't know how to describe it at all,” they say. “We'd prefer you'd listen to it and call it what you want to.” You can hear electronic influences and hints of psychedelia on the record, as Basheer & the Pied Pipers create a mystifying ambience while weaving English vocals into the soundscape. The result is ethereal without sounding contrived, and from the opening 'been' sounds on the first track 'Yes' to the gentle guitars of the album closer 'You Know I Know I Know', there's much to be discovered. The beautiful 'Dreaming of You' is, well, dreamy, and feels like floating into someone's reverie; the crisp 'Monsoon' is short but memorable; and 'Mallet' is hypnotic. The songs have character, and the Pied Pipers' conviction shines though in the record. The two musicians say they have a plethora of influences, and cite Radiohead, Mew, Mars Volta, and Blockhead as some of the artists who have inspired them, and while these influences are reflected in their music, their sound still remains their own.

The album has been released as a free download online, and the duo say they don't have a particular business model in mind when it comes to monetizing their work. “We've never thought of making any money from our music really. If it comes along, great, but the whole process of making and playing music is enough reward for us both.”

And where does Basheer stand in the current Pakistani music scene? “I'm not sure really,” laughs Salman. “All I can say is that we're lucky to even be part of this huge wave of independent music. There are extremely gifted artists from all over Pakistan that are doing things completely independently, and are happy doing so.” Saad agrees; “Poor Rich Boy, //orangenoise, 6la8, Asfandyar Khan are just a few examples of some outfits that we have the utmost respect for, putting out great music relentlessly,” he says.

With output as impressive as this, Basheer & the Pied Pipers and their peers certainly deserve more recognition. And when their music is available for free, you simply have no excuse to not listen to it. “Support the independent music scene as much as you can,” the band urges. “Go to live shows! Download and share releases!”

- By Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 18th November, 2012

Friday, November 16, 2012

My Teen Years - Mawra Hocane

interview

Star and date of birth
My date of birth is 28th September which makes my star Libra.

The best thing about being a teenager
Carelessness. People don’t judge you and they expect mistakes from you. Once you enter your 20s, you have to be careful and act all wise.

I was always listening to
All kinds of songs, whatever suited my mood.

I was glued to the T.V. for
A few Pakistani serials and different series on Star World, like Gossip Girl, 90210, The Vampire Diaries, and America’s Next Top Model, but I was quite a bookworm so I was  never addicted to them.

My favourite movie was
Too many to pick one; a lot of favourites in both Hollywood and Bollywood.

My favourite actor was
Brad Pitt and Salman Khan.

My favourite book was
All my syllabus books except mathematics. :P

My room was full of
Books and notes.

My room walls carried the posters of
Cristiano Ronaldo; when I was 13 or 14, that is.

My closet was full of
Clothes, obviously.

My friends were
Always there.

My first crush
Is now one of my closest friends.

What hurt me the most
Backstabbing.

My dream was to become
Like my mom.

I wish I had known then
What’s meant to be would happen.

Relations with siblings
It’s the best relationship in the world. Typical, yet we’ve always been there for each other.

Relations with parents
My mom is my best friend, and she has been my constant support and strength through all the ups and downs in life.

My school was
Fun. I was the apple of my teachers’ eyes. I always found it full of [losers] back then; exceptions were there, which were, of course, my friends. :D

Ragging at college/university
Yet to come; just got done with my intermediate.

I couldn’t stand
Liars.

My favourite superhero was
My mom!

My favourite sport was
Football.

My favourite pastime was
Music and photography.

My favourite hangout was
Wherever my friends were.

- S.A.

Us Magazine, The News - 16th November, 2012

Friday, November 09, 2012

Brewing music in the Basement - Part II

cover story

Aspiring musicians and their big dreams; let’s have a look at the remaining musical genuises from Nescafé Basement, who explored themselves during the show and are all set to make it big in the music industry...

Shahrukh Aslam
- Background: I’m 20 years old and currently studying Political Science at LUMS.
- Music: My father is a big fan of all sorts of music, although he prefers rock and jazz. I wasn’t interested in music until around the 8th grade when I began listening to different types of music and forming my own opinion and preferences. My father bought me a guitar around the same time and, despite disliking it initially, I kept playing until I fell in love with the instrument. I’ve been playing and jamming with friends for years both in LUMS as well as in high school. I am a big fan of bands like Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains, as well as heavier music; at the same time, I love more atmospheric and progressive music. I suppose it shows in my playing style.
- Nescafé Basement: I was called in for auditions, but I was unable to attend. Despite that, I was invited to one of the jams. I was expecting that I had been called in either to audition or just to see what I was missing out on. Instead, I was handed a guitar and told to get ready for the first play - ‘Babiya’. From that point on, I was the ‘main’ electric guitar player for the Basement and I have been as much a part of the formation of the songs as everyone else who was involved. The show has helped me learn how to interact with people without offending them, how to collaborate with people who are not necessarily operating on the same musical or creative wavelength or who do not have the same tastes as I do. I am particularly proud of ‘Uth Jawana’ as I felt that the original music for the song did not do justice to the intensity and the force behind the lyrics. I also love our versions of ‘Romantic’ and ‘It’s My Life’ because of the sheer fun behind playing them, as well as the fact that they felt like the most organic pieces that we had created as a group, almost like we were all on the same page as we worked on them.
- Future: I plan on finishing my degree and then seeing what’s next on the table for me. I am not planning on pursuing music as a career, nor do I want to. When a hobby becomes a job, one has to compromise. I’d rather not be forced into a position where I will have to give up my musical freedom for money. I’m still going to play like crazy, though.

Hamza Butt
- Background: I am 21 years old and have studied at Lahore Grammar School for my primary and secondary education. I then went on to get a Bachelors degree in Biotechnology at the University of Hong Kong (2009-11) and have been currently transferred to the same programme at Forman Christian College, Lahore. My parents are both medical doctors.
- Music: I developed an interest in music from an early age, beginning with eastern classical and ghazal vocals. With time I diversified my interest to include a variety of other genres ranging from classic rock to contemporary pop and learned several instruments. My earlier musical endeavours were limited to representing my school at gigs, performances (especially during my tenure as Music Society President of LGS JT) and also a handful of works with the LUMS music society. During my stay in Hong Kong, I had the opportunity of singing and training for a year with a Chinese Choir.
- Nescafé Basement: I actually got enrolled in Nescafé Basement through my sister Alina, who was approached as a vocalist for the team. She introduced me to the recruitment team through some of my cover song videos on YouTube and I was glad to hear about their need of a keyboardist. In addition to keyboards, I also had the opportunity to play my part as a violinist. The show really helped brush up my musical coordination skills as we had a large, diverse team of 15 performers covering a wide range of instruments; this is quite different from the smaller groups I had performed with on earlier concerts. I was really fascinated with the originality in arrangements and instrument combinations that our producer, Zulfiqar Khan, helped us put up for each song, whether it was a cover or an original. I am particularly proud of several songs in our ‘pop night’ category; a few titles would be ‘Ajeeb Se’, ‘Waqt’, ‘Aa Bhi Jao’, and ‘Hamesha’ from our ‘rock night’ package. The show goes to show the amount of talent and creativity Pakistan’s young, amateur musicians possess but fail to develop just because of limited opportunities.
- Future: Regarding my career, I am looking forward to making a mark in agricultural sector research. However, music is something that I cannot survive without and will continue to pursue and polish. I would like to brush up my playing and singing skills sufficiently to create good instrumental and vocal compositions that combine aspects of Chinese, sub-continental, and country genres.

Turaab Khan
- Background: I am a 16-year-old boy currently doing my A-levels from LGS Phase 5. After ten years of living in Australia, my father decided to move back to Pakistan.
- Music: My father was a big fan of Entity Paradigm and other bands like AC/DC, Nirvana, Pink Floyd, Foreigner, et cetera. When I was in 6th grade, my father bought me my first guitar. I taught myself to play piano, drums, guitar, and ukulele. Currently, I am a music producer and an aspiring vocalist.
- Nescafé Basement: Pre-Basement, I had visited Xulfi to show him an original song I had produced. After a few months, he called me and asked me to join the Basement. I am the youngest member of the Basement, and I do vocals and backing vocals, play piano, bass, and guitar for the Basement. The Basement experience gave me four of the best months of my life. I am proud of the ‘foreign night’ (English) songs, considering the relatively less amount of time we had to prepare for each song.
- Future: I plan to continue my passion by producing more songs with the many wonderful people I have met through the show. I would love to have another season of it, so I could spend another three months with the best people in the world.

Adrian David
- Background: I am Adrian David, and I am 22 years old. I recently finished my Bachelors in Business Administration. I belong to an army background, my father being an army officer.
- Music: Music has always been a part of my family and I have grown up listening to my father (Maj. David) playing music. So my heart and ears were attuned to music from childhood, and I started singing when I was as young as four years. I developed interest in learning instruments at the age of ten.
- Nescafé Basement: Before being a part of Nescafé Basement, I had done music underground only. I became a part of Nescafé Basement as our mentor (and now an elder brother) Xulfi needed a mouth organ player and I was approached through a common friend at a later stage when the Basement crew had been jamming for a month. Later, apart from the mouth organ, I played harmonium, flute, keyboard, and guitars. The show helped me in diversifying my listening as every musician had a different inspiration. I am proud of each and every song in the Basement because every song is a musical masterpiece.
- Future: In the recent future, I’ll be releasing my single, which has been recorded and mixed by Turaab H. Khan (another Basement artist). What I want to achieve is that no matter what the response is to the music I create in the future, my focus is to come out with good music, because that is eternal, not the fame.

Mansoor Lashari
- Background: I’m 20 years old and a true Lahori. I studied up to my A-levels at Aitchison College, and currently I’m in my second year at LSE. I come from a family that doesn’t really have a musical background but I am lucky enough to have their (hopefully) undying support.
- Nescafé Basement: I was one of the lucky few to be contacted and directly recruited on to the Basement team by Xulfi bhai. The entire experience was phenomenal and exceeded my expectations in every way. The Basement greatly helped me improve and diversify myself, not just in terms of playing drums but also in terms of perceiving music as well.
- Future: Playing drums has been a very passionate hobby for me for the past five years. To me, it is an endless and exciting learning process which I don’t want to constrict in any way. I plan to use every opportunity to create awareness,learn, improve, grow, and, most importantly, enjoy music.

Abeir Shan
- Background: I am 21 years old from Karachi, studying fashion and design in Lahore at Pakistan Institute of Fashion Design.
- Music: My khala used to play congo, and being a kid, I used to admire her a lot. So, I can easily say that she inculcated in me the interest to try and play music. I am a part of PIFD music society, performed on Earth Day at Aitchison, and have done various performances at Cafe Rock.
- Nescafé Basement: I got to know about this project through a friend. I had just initially come to see the Basement jamming, but Xulfi bhai asked me to play the instrument I had brought with me, the djembe, and from that day onwards, he recruited me for the project. Through this whole experience not only did my skills get refined, I also got to know about the terminologies of music. I met a lot of talented people and we gained a lot from each other in terms of music and experience. Being a part of this project, I cannot name any one song since I know how much hard work and effort was put into each and every song; all the songs have their fortes and standout in their own ways. Xulfi bhai has been a great mentor and support throughout.
- Future: I would love to explore and learn more about music and I might take it up as a profession. Currently, I am doing fashion designing so my idea is to merge music into fashion because both of these are excellent ways of expressing oneself.

Fawad Hassan Zaidi
- Background: I am 25 years old and in the last year of my B.S. (Computer Science). I am the first person in my family to do music. My father is an electrical engineer and my mother is a professor of Urdu.
- Music: Since a very young age, I have been interested in music. As far as I can remember, at the age of 10, I started playing on table imagining as if it were a tabla. My parents noticed my talent at a young age and always supported me. At the age of 15, they arranged for me to go to Radio Pakistan for my basic tabla lessons. During my lessons at Radio Pakistan, not only did I learn tabla, I also observed how professional musicians worked and the whole learning experience was really amazing for me. As my O-level exams were near, I had to stop going there. After my O-levels, my uncle gifted me a guitar and that was the turning point in my musical interests. In fact, my first guitar teacher was  Xulfi himself, and I took lessons for a year. Since then I have played sessions with different bands, and composed songs for my own band (o2) as well. I have worked with the Rising, Lagan, and Call.
- Nescafé Basement: As I have been playing with Call, Xulfi knew about my multiple talents and Nescafé Basement was the perfect place to utilise them. I played tabla, guitars, djembe and in one song the rubab. Other than that I have sung for the first time in my life. It was my original composition that was arranged and produced by Xulfi for the Basement. The show was an experience of a lifetime. I had never recorded tabla properly before Nescafé Basement. I also got to experiment with my vocals for the first time. My favourites are ‘Aa Bhi Jao’, ‘Larri Adda’, ‘Raaz-e-Fitna’, ‘Hamesha’, and ‘Kabhi Mein’. Nescafé Basement is a very good effort as such shows help youth to experiment with their talents and help them channel their energies doing something productive.
- Future: The plans are big, the aims are even bigger. I hope everything goes according to the plan. Now the main focus is my degree; I have to finish this year in any case. For now, I have tried all my talents in Nescafé Basement and will surely continue working on improving my skills.

Asfar Hussain
- Background: I am 21 years old, living in Chitral with my family. I have lived there for the most part of my life and came to Lahore a few years ago. In Chitral, I studied at Langlands School and College. And in Lahore, I am studying Musicology at NCA.
- Music: I’ve been listening to music since childhood as my father is a poet and has always encouraged me to do music. I was eight years old when I started taking more interest in music. I participated in a competition, ‘Thumri Singing’ in All Pakistan Music Conference, in 2011, and attained second position. I am also the Director of the Eastern Music Society NCA for the last two years now.
- Nescafé Basement: Xulfi bhai came to NCA for auditions for the show. He selected me after hearing me sing and play the rubab. I loved this experience, as this is the best musical experience that I have had in my life. It really taught and groomed me immensely and also broadened the horizon for me as now I think of music in a more diverse manner. From the songs we did, I loved performing ‘Waqt’, ‘Hamesha’, and ‘Tau Kia Huwa’.
- Future: This show has given me a lot and now I am clear about my future. I want to sing, sing and sing! I am a songwriter and will hopefully be releasing my own versions of ‘Tau Kia Huwa’ and ‘Raaz-e-Fitna’ very soon.

- S.A.

Us Magazine, The News - 9th November, 2012