Rachika Nayar, "Fragments"
This new EP is something of a sketchbook-like companion piece to Nayar's sublime debut album. More specifically, it is a collection of "sonic miniatures Nayar constructed from guitar loops . . . in the familiar comforts of her own bedroom," as well as a glimpse of what her raw material sounds like before it is processed and reshaped into "grander mutated compositions" like those of Our Hands Against the Dark. In theory, that should make Fragments something of a minor release, but these more simple and intimate pieces are often even better than those of Nayar's more formal work, albeit with the caveat that more than half of these pieces end in under two minutes (and the others do not stick around much longer). Nevertheless, Nayar is an incredibly gifted guitarist with a remarkably strong melodic sensibility and this album is quite a sustained hot streak of great (if ephemeral) ideas. As with her previous album, it is not hard to spot Nayar's influences‚Äîin fact, some pieces are even intended as homages to folks like Pat Metheny and Steve Reich. That said, the main touchstones I hear are more hook-minded contemporary artists like Mark McGuire and some classic Midwestern emo. That is always welcome stylistic terrain in my book, but the real beauty of Fragments lies in how often Nayar matches or surpasses her influences at their own games.
The album begins in impressive fashion with two nearly perfect pieces in a row. The first, "memory as miniature," opens with chiming clean arpeggios before revealing a lead guitar melody that hits the breezy, laid back California vibe of prime McGuire before a synth-sounding chord progression pulls everything in a more bittersweet dreampop direction. Everything about it is wonderful, but I was especially struck by the beauty of the intricately chiming arpeggios that form its backdrop. The following "clarity," on the other hand, starts off sounding like a candidate for the best American Football song ever, as Nayar unleashes a gorgeously vibrant and ascending guitar melody. Much like its predecessor, however, "clarity" sticks tenaciously to its perfect opening theme and merely enhances it a bit with shimmering chords and some warm synth-like coloration in the periphery. Both of those pieces are prime examples of the compositional aesthetic that defines Fragments: each piece is essentially just an incredibly cool guitar hook playing out for a couple minutes before fading out or abruptly ending. While it lasts, each theme is subtly fleshed out to add emotional depth and a sense of harmonic development, yet each song is still essentially a single theme that is not allowed to blossom into a fully formed song. In theory, that should be exasperating ("aaaargh, why did you stop?!?"), but it is hard to complain when every too-soon ending only leads to yet another improbably beautiful new theme. In fact, there is not a single moment on Fragments that does not sound like an excerpt from a killer emo classic, an imaginary Slowdive song about to erupt, or the perfect soundtrack for a sun dappled summer drive along the California coast. While I dearly wish this EP was (much) longer, I would be hard pressed to hard to think of many other releases from this year that can match Fragments for sheer wall-to-wall greatness.
Samples can be found here.