There’s the sense that Feel, the debut EP from Lahore-based musician Ibrahim Imdad aka Gentle Robot, is more of a call to action than anything else. The album title is an imperative, a plea for emotional connection in an age where it can seem so distant. Album opener ‘Maladaptive’ begins with Natasha Noorani declaring ‘Hi!’ It’s almost comical in the way it comes in. But then, seconds later, we hear the rest: ‘Hiding my eyes…’ This is what this short EP hinges on; moments of vulnerability that immediately recede, hiding back into a shell.
The EP calls up parallels with Brooklyn band Grizzly Bear. The music video for ‘Maladaptive’ even has visual similarities to the American band’s video for their single ‘Ready, Able’. Grizzly Bear are known on the US scene for their technically interesting and complex musical production, whether that means odd time signatures, strange chord progressions or obtuse lyrics. It can make their music seem like a continually morphing puzzle. This is also, curiously, their biggest weakness as a band. Occasionally this complexity – this technicality – is distancing, it makes you look for solutions rather than letting the music do the work.
In some ways, this is also true for Gentle Robot’s debut. The production here is complex and technically fantastic. Take ‘Mind Control’, which starts off with a really odd guitar line with a weird time signature (I think), and Imdad adds layers and layers. Jazzy synths, xylophone twinkles, a great vocal from Varqa Faraid, the lot. Structurally, the track is completely bewildering, in a good way. Each segment feels like a jigsaw piece to a puzzle that only Imdad can put together. It’s the best track on the record, one where you really feel that Gentle Robot just goes crazy with the arrangement. Everything feels instinctual here rather than planned out, like your hearing sounds leaking directly from the artist’s brain.
The weakest track, ‘Windowsills’, is in many ways the opposite. The intro melody is perhaps meant to sound mechanical, but it comes across as a ringtone you would hear on a 90’s cellphone. The changeup mid way through the track, too, is predictable and not quite as interesting as it ought to be. It feels oddly thought out and analysed.
The closer Gentle Robot gets to the ‘instinctive’ production, the better the tracks are. There’s a kazoo in ‘Feel’ (ft. Sameen Qasim), for example, that should be completely out of place, but it fits in a bizarre way. It gives the track an air of fun and light-heartedness. Maladaptive, too, has these beautiful snakey synths that stitch their way into the track, as well as a thumping rhythm and uneasy chimes, bells and percussion that rattle in towards the end. When it all cumulates with the strong vocal melody, it’s pretty incredible stuff.
Lyrically, the EP continually refers to mind-body separation. There’s a paranoia that is embedded in the record about mind control, and mental surveillance. Imdad seems somewhat obsessed by the impossibility of knowing other people’s thoughts, and fear at the potential possibility of someone invading his own. This tussle between mind and body in some way reflects the album itself, and Imdad is best when he doesn’t think too much, just does.
You can listen to the EP below on Patari, and support the artist by purchasing the album on Bandcamp. Support our indie alternative artists! And if you like it tell them!