Rafiq Bhatia: 5 Albums That Changed My Life
Rafiq Bhatia of Son Lux is out with his second solo studio album this Friday (April 6), a work titled Breaking English. To herald its coming, Bhatia shared with TIDAL a list of records that shaped his musical life.
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Hum Aapke Hain Kaun, Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
When I was in first grade, my parents went on a trip to India. I was really into Zoobooks at the time — specifically the one about snakes — so naturally, I asked if they could bring me back a snake charmer’s flute. Not only did they manage to find one for me, but they also had the good sense to purchase a second, bansuri-style wooden flute with finger holes so that I might actually be able to learn to play a few things. (The snake charmer’s flute looked cool, but was almost impossible to get a sound out of.)
Overjoyed, I decided to bring the instruments to school for show-and-tell. As she drove me there, my mom was blasting the soundtrack from Hum Aapke Hain Kaun while I sat in the backseat checking out the flutes. As I heard Lata Mangeshkar’s voice on ‘Joote De Do Paise Le Lo,’ something came over me and I decided to try to join in. It just so happened that the wooden flute was in the right key. It was a solid minute or two before my mom realized that I was playing along; when she did, she had to pull over. That was the day my parents decided to get me music lessons.
Jimi Hendrix, Live at the Fillmore East
As a beginner guitarist obsessed with Hendrix, I picked up the documentary video companion to this album on a whim one day. I micro-dosed on the grainy, black-and-white concert footage each night before bed for weeks on end, slowly rewiring my brain. The effects never wore off.
It’s a cliche at this point, but no less true: Hendrix’s playing transcends the guitar entirely, arriving at something much more deeply human. There are a number of aspects of these recordings — the raw simplicity of the live format; Hendrix’s eschewal of showmanship in favor of interiority; the physicality of his performance; Buddy Miles’ and Billy Cox’s economical, hard-hitting and infectious support — that make them ideal for anyone attempting to zero in on the ephemeral substance of Hendrix’s playing. (It is, of course, impossible to do that, but I’ve always felt like Live at the Fillmore East gets me the closest.)
Quasimoto & Madlib, The Further Adventures of Lord Quas
The music of Madlib is always surreptitious in its fastidiousness, but anyone paying attention can easily spot the perfectionist behind the veil of blunt smoke. It’s hazy, grainy, wobbly and discordant in the most precise of ways, and the amount of work necessary to unify his staggeringly broad range of source material (everything from Gal Costa to Iceberg Slim) alone is enough to confirm that the Beat Konducta means for this music to sound and feel precisely as it does.
After the much more approachable Madvillany put me on to Madlib’s existence, I quickly realized that the man had effectively surrounded himself in his own cosmos in sound, astral traveling between dozens of projects under enough aliases to fill the front of a T-shirt.
If Madvillainy was Madlib’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, then Further Adventures must be something more like Finnegan’s Wake — 27 tracks of willfully impenetrable auditory narrative delivered by Madlib’s helium-voiced MC alter-ego, with an arc that can barely be felt, let alone understood.
It’s designed to lull the listener into a somnambulant state, but if you can snap out of the haze, there’s wild originality and painstaking effort on display, as on ‘Bus Ride,’ where one set of samples is used to score another. This record is packed with ideas about how sound can inspire form.
Vijay Iyer, Reimagining
Vijay Iyer has had a profound impact on my life for more than a decade; he’s been a teacher, mentor, collaborator and friend to me. But long before I met him I heard Reimagining and it floored me. I had stumbled upon something that translated multi-dimensionality into momentum: it was kaleidoscopic, revolving, revolutionary.
There was something about Iyer’s playing on ‘Revolutions’ that drew me in immediately the first time I heard it: the kind of flowing pianism that characterizes Ravel’s ‘Sonatine’ hardened into a serpentine form that accumulates momentum behind its Mridangam-like rhythmic cadences, cracking like a whip into the downbeat.
Perhaps Rudresh Mahanthappa’s robust, metallic tone on alto saxophone also subconsciously reminded me of the reedy Ginans my grandfather used to sing me to put me to sleep when I was a kid. Those Ginans and mid-’90s gangster rap were my first two musical loves — I never thought there would be a music that could so readily reconcile them until I heard ‘Song for Midwood.’
Ben Frost, By the Throat
By the Throat achieves vivification through devastation. It’s a gripping, 46-minute immersion in a sound world inspired by ‘the collective aural memory of the human experience and our fascination with the malevolence of the natural world.’
It’s a deeply embodied and unyieldingly visceral experience that returns the listener to a primordial state, one in which only the present matters. But the album’s most menacing avalanches of noise give way to a hard-won and affirming kind of calm. In these moments, you become conscious of your breathing, and notice that your heart is still beating.
The opening cut, ‘Killshot,’ is somehow simultaneously one of the most tumultuous and organized pieces of music I’d ever encountered. This is one of the mysteries of Frost’s music: How can one exert meticulous control over untamable sound, or moreover, how can one make the meticulously controlled sound untameable?
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