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Math & Melody: The Rhythm-Emotion Duel

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Laptop Music Review

Composer-Sreevalsan J. Menon

There is a beautiful and grossly underrated song in the movie Ratchagan composed by A. R. Rehman. The song, titled Kanavu, starts with kayyil mithakkum kanava nee. For many, it was their first wow moment with the singer Srinivas. What has this song to do with Laptop (movie)’s songs composed by Sreevalsan J. Menon? Let me explain—it is not that any tunes are similar or copied. It has to do with carrying melody with a strict rhythmic structure. As srinivas sings with overflowing emotion and extremely sweet melody in kanavu, we slowly forget the bass-rhythm pattern that sustains throughout the length of that song. There is a point in that song where all this hits a peak-the one that is a feather in the cap or any composer. It is towards the end (right after the crescendo) when srinivas expresses the words ….ennaal thaanga mudiyaathu. I can go on with more examples, but since the album I am writing about is Laptop, let me make the connection.

I can safely say that this is the only album that pleasantly surprised me, and to which I am hearing to continuously, day after day. I liked Sreevalsan J. Menon’s (SJM) efforts to tone down everything and make it palatable to ordinary audiences like us—remember that he is an accomplished classical singer. However, the only thing that I would like to see change is the smoothness & flow of all of his songs. Since I haven’t seen the movie, there might be a mysterious reason why these songs follow the beats so religiously, sometimes even cutting off a wonderfully crafted tune. If SJM reads this, kindly let us know. Let’s go song by song. I sequencing in my order of preference-most liked to least.

Maymaasame (Singer: Amal Anthony)

This song seems to be set in a common raga Aabhogi. The song is extremely melodious, well arranged, and brilliantly sung. The song is a tad bit slow, but makes up for that slowness by the divine voice of Amal. He not only hits the right notes (e.g. etho vishadam, ninnil niranju—listen to the slight gamakams he does with accuracy), but also expresses each word with clarity and feeling. The use of Veena accentuates the raga’s feel perfectly. The pallavi is also richly arranged with santoor, synth patterns and delicate amounts of Tabla. The first interlude demonstrates what I had mentioned in the opening of this review-melody swinging closely with a structured rhythm. The first charanam is a delight with Amal handling the lyrics with kid-gloves (listen to: Manninte Gandham…). The second interlude follows the loose patterns in the first. SJM has provided us with not only a beautiful song, but also nostalgic memories of a legend in the music direction world: Late Raveendran Master.

Etho Jalashankhil (Singers: Soniya, Amal)

This song is featured in a solo version by Soniya and a duet with Amal. This song again shows that melody is too much under the influence of the rhythm. It is a beautiful core tune sung well by both singers. I personally preferred Amal’s version—but I am biased by his voice. The start is stellar with a solo piano. Then the song flows relatively well during the pallavi. I was a bit disappointed by the first interlude, with too much of a cookie-cutter feel. Charanam has the exact amount of string support  ­(which you don’t see these days). Flute interjects during some lines perfectly. The second charanam has a sweet violin solo. Overall, the song is a good hear, especially if you like slow melodies.

Jalashayyayil (Singers: Kalyani Menon, Soniya)

Without sounding repetitive, I would have liked to hear the song with no percussion, at all. This song has, in my view, the best arrangements during the interludes. Like other songs, this one is also dripping with emotion and sometimes awkward silences (e.g. Jalashayyayil _____ ). During the charanams, the intervening silent spots (in between thalavattams/measures) are nicely filled in by synths. Without that the song would not have sounded good. There is also a nice lost feeling to this song, which might be what SJM was trying to express.

Ilam Neela Mizhikal (Singer: SJM)

Another simple song sung by the composer himself. Arrangement is simple most of the time, especially during SJM’s vocals. SJM is a very well known singer and hence the ease with which he goes through the different sections as though it is a walk in the park. The interludes are, however, misfits. Those take-off in an aggressive way. I got the same feeling when I heard the famous song malargale (Lovebirds). Towards the end the pallavi/anupallavi is repeated with percussion, which was unnecessary and awkward—sounded like a remix version. Although initially I liked the melody, it became a bit repetitive after hearing many times.

Vaathil Chaaraanaay (Singer: SJM)

This is a revolting/sad song took me right to Ravindran master’s days. Ravindran master’s songs, especially the earlier ones used to have an underlying feeling of sadness and anger combined (e.g. Sreelathikakal, Thenum Vayampum-arrangement, interludes) that stuck to your soul. I also feel that this is the only one song where SJM flexes his classical music muscle. The charanam goes through wild scale changes reminiscent of some of Sharath’s songs. The second interlude has choral voices fitting right with the emotions. SJM should try to get out of the same pace though. You’ll notice that most of the songs go at a similar pace. This would have been a good song to change the pace a bit. However, I am sitting in my arm chair—easy to say! Musically, this is the most challenging and innovative song in the album, and might be well liked by music scholars & experts.

Note: The start of the song was un-warranted; it did sound like a video game soundtrack.

To conclude, I would like to congratulate SJM on his entry into film music with poise and maturity which I wish most other composers had. SJM has not tried to overreach, over-compose, or over-arrange any of the songs in the album. He has also not tried to be quirky (except Vaathil charaanay). He has treated the human voice and penned words with respect. He has also given opportunities to some great talent—Amal Anthony being chief among them. I wish Amal all the best and hope that other composers note his talent and the intuition he has demonstrated in singing. As I mentioned before, the only two drawbacks that SJM should correct for the future are: (1) Don’t make the melodies too structured to the rhythm, so  ­much as to cut the singers off at the end of each thalavattam(measure); (2) Think beyond the same pace and out of the box-like what Sharath did between Sreeragamo & Valinmel Poovum in Pavithram.

I wish that SJM’s work is noticed and along with Jaison J. Nair, who unfortunately was not noticed after he churned out amazing melodies in Aanachandam was ignored. I am amazed at the second-grade songs that come out like duplicate watches out of an illegal factory these days. It makes me mad, sad, apathetic, and finally bored. For those Malayalam film industry folks who cry about quality, remember that there are talents like the ones I mentioned above that get ignored routinely. It is not a matter of playing with synths and software, it is also a matter of musical depth, intuition and maturity. For the industry folks, it is also matter of just looking, hearing, & noticing.

4 Comments

  1. It is a sad fact that people like Sreevalsan and Jaison do not get any further chances than their debuts. As for me, they are the only hope that Malayalam has for melodies.

    PS: To those who want to listen to an audio podcast interview with Sreevalsan Menon can listen to it here: http://malayaanma.blogspot.com/2008/07/interview-with-sreevalsan-j-menon.html

  2. I agree with you completely.The first time I heard the song itself I was carried away.Such a nostalgic feeling it gives.Well done SJM.

  3. Wonderfully written! Agree with you so much-I would also like to add Mohan Sithara, who I feel is badly underused, he’s given such amazing melodies! I pray that these genuine talents get more chances.

  4. Pingback: Laptop:Music Review « Life is Melody

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