Sid Sriram - West Coast Nightfall; Before Dusk (2013)

Sid Sriram
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There is no exhilaration like the exhilaration of witnessing an artist you admire move from strength to strength. Since 2010, the hipster singer, Sid Sriram, has been delivering EP after EP of the most honest of progressive soul. His exploration hasn’t been without its eyebrow raises, such as the electronic psychedelic DayDream, but there has been an evolution of skill and craft that is exciting to observe as this talented twenty-something grows into himself and his artistry. For listeners just being introduced to Sriram on his fourth EP in three years, West Coast Nightfall; Before Dusk, is just as fine a welcome greeting as any of the Sriram EPs that continue to tease longer invested fans yearning for that LP that seems to always be forever just out of reach.

There is no exhilaration like the exhilaration of witnessing an artist you admire move from strength to strength. Since 2010, the hipster singer, Sid Sriram, has been delivering EP after EP of the most honest of progressive soul. His exploration hasn’t been without its eyebrow raises, such as the electronic psychedelic DayDream, but there has been an evolution of skill and craft that is exciting to observe as this talented twenty-something grows into himself and his artistry. For listeners just being introduced to Sriram on his fourth EP in three years, West Coast Nightfall; Before Dusk, is just as fine a welcome greeting as any of the Sriram EPs that continue to tease longer invested fans yearning for that LP that seems to always be forever just out of reach.

Like at least one of his inspirations, Luther Vandross, Sriram is adept at both covers and his own originally penned and produced material, having earned his stripes and early fandom through finely crafted YouTube cover performances before introducing fans to his own songwriting and production skills. The Berklee-trained stylist is also very much a creature of his musical generation, while still demonstrating a clear appreciation—and skillful borrowing from—what timelessly worked in soul and pop music history. His music varies from classic soul to hip hop to neo-pop rock expressions, sometimes all in the same cut. Under age 25, Sriram is an artist still finding his way, but blending as he goes, sometimes including Raga and Phyrgian scales of his own Southeast Asian heritage into Black American Music (BAM) and gospel runs as nods to his cultural influences.

These youthful explorations can lead to a lack of cohesion and the occasional identity crisis on some of Sriram’s projects, including this one, an issue largely side-stepped on his most consistent release thus far, A Conscious Mind: Live Sessions. Here the disjointed inclusion of the more radio pop influenced rock/hip hop merger presented on “Journey” seems to be as much about daring his audience to stretch with him, to allow him to include the full range of his expressive interests and join him on those journeys rather than limit him in genre. Well polished and produced by Akoustik, William Wells and Sriram, the synth heavy anthemic cut could go to Top 40 radio tomorrow, but is completely out of place on this most elegant and otherwise carefully considered of musical meditations. Whatever the artist intent, “Journey” comes across as a show-off exercise to prove Sriram can go young pop if he wanted to, rather than an up-tempo extension of the wee small hours of the morning ideas presented on West Coast Nightfall; Before Dusk.

Sriram may enjoy lots of different music styles of the day, but where he shows his greatest facility is with the soulful ballad and with the infusion of hip hop and progressive soul in contemporary soundscapes. Even with his forays into electronica, as with the inspirational “India,” Sriram’s hopeful and spiritual yearnings still read as soul set to synths, and that’s not a diss. It is difficult to make the electronic sound soulful to R&B conditioned ears, and Sriram does here in ways he hasn’t always. On West Coast Nightfall; Before Dusk, he accomplishes what was attempted at on his last EP, Daydream, but was overpowered by distractingly busy musical distortions. Sriram is learning to edit himself, to get out of his own way and trust his instrument.

He is also getting better at the hip hop elements, as with the gleefully dirty and distorted “Diamonds” whose 57 seconds of head-nodding, electronic infectiousness will be hard for even the most ardent of anti-hip hoppers to ignore once those shoulders get to bouncing. The compellingly arranged “Winter Mind,” written and produced wholly by Sriram is the fulfillment of all his genre mash-up experimentations, finally delivering him a heretofore elusive mid-tempo head-banger that hints at funk while also fostering thoughtful listening. The intelligently crafted “Winter Mind” is Sriram conquering previous artistic weaknesses and winning.

Where he has always won, from day one, is the ballad, and this project boasts at least two unencumbered quiet storms. While Sriram’s take on “Superstar” was said to be inspired by Vandross’s own, tonally he comes closer to Karen Carpenter’s, though the slowed pacing does mirrors Vandross’s Marcus Miller-produced rendition. Wisely, producers Jake Sherman, Dan Drohan, Sean Tracy and Sriram avoid copying Miller’s musical palette, updating it with a plucking string serving as a ticking time piece that explodes into an epic wall of drums and bombastic bass heavy spectral effects that is as beautiful as it is huge, with Sriram’s melismata sailing straight through the center, clarion clear. With the project’s lead single, the atmospheric “Anymore,” the song’s sole writer, producer and vocalist continues a conversation begun on songs like “2 Am Prayer,” “Talk to Me,” and “Fugitive Thoughts.” As with these other suite movements separated only by project placement, Sriram takes his time, is respectful of space, and continues to find the airy, lighter places in his voice to explore and rest his notes upon, relying less on his heavy runs to provide emotion and get his point across until the song’s bold conclusion. While the other referenced ballads were more jazz and neo-soul, “Anymore” is an understated power ballad with more apparent indie rock allusions minus the requisite electric guitar. With marching drums and melancholic piano chords, Sriram ensures the rock is muted just enough to avoid overtaking a song whose strength is its subtlety.

Lyrically, Sriram revisits earlier themes of love’s longing and appears a haunted man on half of these seven cuts and an inspiring spiritual journeyman trying to find his way on the other half. Already, he’s found music a suitable outlet for wrangling with philosophical questions and battling the all-consuming confusion of young love and the usually tumultuous relationships that accompanies such pairings. There is something endearing about hearing Sriram so publicly struggle with these interior questions and humanistic concerns in such creatively open ways. As with West Coast Nightfall; Before Dusk, it leads to music that grows in skill, artistry, and confidence as the young man himself does in his own evolution into more seasoned manhood. And, we’re all the better for it. Highly recommended.

By L. Michael Gipson

 
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