In March, Grammy nominated artist Ajay Mathur released his newest album “Little Boat.” Mathur has put together thirteen songs that journey through the various worlds of his influences, while also chronicling his experiences of growing stronger in the face of life’s obstacles. As a whole, his new songs are a feast of international flavor combinations, some paired together well and others a bit hard to swallow.
Originally hailing from India, Mathur now works out of Switzerland, where he’s been writing and playing music for the last few decades. The strangest thing one notices upon listening to the first track of this album, “Here’s the Love,” is how much Mathur sounds like a pop rocker from 1990s America. There’s no reason anyone listening to the song would need to think otherwise. Although this chameleon-like ability to take on the mood and feel of that era is impressive, especially for an international musician, the song also lacks originality and falls a bit flat by the end.
The second track finds more of his international influence coming into the picture. The sounds of India awkwardly pair with harmonica on “Forget About Yesterday,” which, though pleasantly optimistic, easily gets lost in its own platitudes. Both lyrically and musically, the song seems to suffer from a lack of substantial grounding, as Mathur tries to throw various instruments together without siphoning out the essence of any of them.
On “Start Living Again,” Mathur recovers a bit. A strong vocal harmony pulls the song along, which draws its influences from 70s pub rock and folk. “I’m not the only one with a broken heart / Who needs to get smart / Start living again” Mathur sings. It’s straightforward and a little bit corny, but unlike those other tracks manages to find its feet musically, pulling the whole arrangement together nicely.
The idea that Mathur’s songs are psychedelic seems to be bit misleading. So is the description that his songs use Led Zeppelin-like guitars, which I find to be a somewhat bloated statement. Yes, his songs use hard rock guitars at time, but to compare that with Jimmy Page’s legendary work seems to be idealistic fishing at best.
The honest truth is that Mathur’s songs do best when he stays away from trying to collage together an airy list of influences and sticks to a simple formula. “There We Are (Do It Right Or Not All)” course corrects the boat a little bit, and is a pleasant listen through and through. Others feel like he’s trying too hard. “My Wallet is a House of Cards” is overblown hard rock, and finds Mathur doing a grueling Eddie Vedder impression.
The upside of “Little Boat,” and Mathur’s music as whole, is it’s wide-eyed optimism and giddy dive into styles and influences. Tracks like “Grooving in Paris (All My Choices)” may not be tightly produced or even that catchy, but succeeds in the way it guilelessly celebrates itself and music as a whole. In the case of “Grooving in Paris,” the lazy-day funk breakdown grants it the air of a goofy film noir jazz musical, which, at the end of the day, is fun in its own right.