Anyone missing the old-school sounds of Bollywood disco is in for a treat when it comes to Siliguri-based producer Debojyoti Sanyal’s latest album, PROPSTVR. On a journey to make retro cool again with his synthpop project Dreamhour, Debo’s second album is a deep dive into the glittering and colourful past on the back of contemporary millennial sounds.
In fact, listening to the album alongside the global return of disco in popular music – think Dua Lipa’s quarantine album and The Weeknd’s recent releases – makes it feel even more current even as it invokes the past.
The first thing that hits is the innately danceable element present throughout the 42-minute record. Then come the shimmering soundscapes wrapped in oodles of disco syrup and otherworldly sounds of spacey synthesisers – bright, illuminated, colourful and upbeat.
A consistent pattern can be found – instrumental skirmishes make way for suspenseful drops into minimal sonic territories which are preludes to much bigger hip-swinging waves.
The track ‘Shadows’, however, takes the intensity down a notch. Running around the edge of traditional synthpop, this takes on futuristic qualities with cyborg-like vocals. The grounding bass lines keep things real while an atmospheric guitar swirls in wisps of fantasy. The lyrics address the shadows in our mind that we are forced to confront when we are miserable, lovelorn, lonely and cold.
The robotic vocals can be found again on ‘Internot’ which takes a swipe at the impersonal feeling of dating on the Internet which does not need the warmth of human touch. Warped guitar lines intersperse with prodding organ runs as the song outlines the dehumanising non-need for emotional investment. The issue he points out here is extremely relevant in the age of Tinder, where online avatars are the judge of one’s worth.
Lyrically, Debo’s themes revolve around ‘millennial things’. Songs address commonplace topics such as heartbreak, reminiscing about childhood and the unfailing optimism of youth. He keeps it simple and to the point, speaking in the non-flowery language of today.
On ‘Recall’, he desperately wants to hold onto the mid-twenties phase of his life when everything seems possible through the starry eyes of youth. He doesn’t want to let in harsh realities, and instead seeps into dream worlds with a puff of much desired intoxication.
The impeccable production and top-notch sound of the record does not betray that Debo recorded the album in a tiny hostel room in Pune over complaints about loud noise from neighbours. Even bloodthirsty bed bugs, a crashing computer and absence of lunch money could not deter his spirit.
His previous album VLLNS was more experimental and murkier, but had the multi-hued taste of other minds directing the creative process. This album, on the other hand, is purely one-dimensional in terms of ideation and has a clear-cut path on which it wants to move.
The beats are bold, the organically curated music samples are honest and the lyrics have intimacy. Even in the way the music is designed, one can find the shining head of Bollywood music mogul Bappi Lahiri nodding in approval.
The transitions he undertakes are breathtaking and non-hesitant, as is evident in ‘How It Goes’. The bass is clearly the driving force while the jarring interludes add an alarming element. In the end, eerie sounds take over like a nightmare to meet a murky end.
The heavy usage of structure-forming bass lines lend from acid house. The dense, low end sounds blend into the beats and provide such a powerful rhythm that it is bound to take over the body even in a song like ‘Mean’ where he chastises a former lover for treating him cold-heartedly.
However, the continuous presence of an over-arching synthpop theme becomes too much at times. Songs segue into one another and are difficult to distinguish here and there. The overall essence is pretty much the same throughout all the 11 tracks.
Also, in songs like ‘Until She’ and ‘Hail to Thee’, lyrics seem like they have been added as an afterthought. Especially in the former, one singular segment is played over and over again in loops with only subtle mood variations.
The latter also follows the same style, though the theme is political. Hailing the way in which god has come to our country today, a voice devoid of emotion asks the Almighty to let them serve as minions. At the backdrop of the grand ceremony held for the inauguration of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, this comparison is a bit chilling.
The opener ‘At The End’ also takes on a contemporary issue by shining light on the fact that we are hurtling towards the end of the world. Though he doesn’t carve out reasons, it can be easily gauged that the current mode of capitalistic consumption and nihilistic destruction of nature is definitely not sustainable.
An entire zine has been made by Anusha Menon to accompany the album. It professes to be the ‘microcosm of your past, present and future’.
Indeed, PROPSTVR is a tale of the present, wrapped in the past, which looks towards the future.
Shaswata Kundu Chaudhuri is a features journalist based in Kolkata with an unhealthy interest in music.
Album art: Anusha Menon