Indian prog rock group Coma Rossi had four years between forming the band and releasing their debut indie record to come up with ideas. And come up with ideas they did – packing their self-titled 2018 album with ocean vibes, eerie keyboard, electronic elements, space station voices, an instrumental track, hospital sounds, film noir, thrash metal, and domestic arguments – all wrapped in an ambient, progressive soundscape. The determination to experiment so profusely works in places and doesn’t in others.
Where it does work for Tom Borah (vocals), Gaurav Govilkar (guitars), Udayan Kashalikar (bass, vocals), Juby Thomas (keyboards) and Anupam Panda (drums) is on the first single they released a month out from the album launch, Turn Back Time. Some artists mess up the selection of their first single, choosing popular over best. Safe to say these guys did not mess up. It begins life with bouncing sound bubbles, tribal drum beats and electronic cicadas before Govilkar and Panda team up effectively in the meatier parts of the track, having a little rock party among themselves. Not to be outdone, Borah stretches his voice to the next level with ‘Just get me out of here/just get me out of here’, channelling a classic heavy metal vocalist.
Transmission is another track worthy of praise. Borah gives a soaring vocal performance for the chorus, blending flawlessly with Thomas’ keys, Panda’s drums, Govilkar’s guitar, and Kashalikar’s bass and vocals. Prog rock listeners can be waiting for these magical musical moments for weeks or even months. It’s like the sound has been out there all along, but this band is the first to record it. Halfway through we get a space station voiceover (fitting, given the song title), which is not bad, but it’s not good either. All is redeemed when Govilkar hops into a solo – those fingers and strings were just meant to be together. There’s love between instrument and human here.
Mirage rounds out the top cuts. The album’s first song greets the listener with waves crashing on sand before a Deftones vibe arrives courtesy of a keyboard. As soon as the vocals are allowed to come in, the brain is tempted to make a connection to a traditional Indian singing style like gamak, which is the oscillation of notes. However, Borah doesn’t quite go there, opting for a more standardised style. The bass really sets the pace of the latter half of the track, speeding up and slowing down the rest of the musicians. Mirage is taken to a close with some neat Red Hot Chilli Peppers bass and Pumpkins ‘Gish’ riffing.
Then there are songs with questionable sound effects and transitions; a bit eccentric even for prog. The hospital monitor beep in Yellow Escape sticks out like… something that shouldn’t stick out. The keys do enter to sooth things over and provide a more expansive soundscape though. Stillborn gets the film noir/Jessica Jones treatment to begin with, which is fine, and Borah chases the high notes again admirably, but then there’s a weird keyboard-to-thrash metal transition. Listeners who were just in an auditorium absorbing a skilled pianist essentially get punched by Metallica with no warning. Lost has a mix of acoustic strumming and full-blown rhythm guitar, which is more than fine on the ears, but later, a domestic argument on tape is played. While it probably fits in with the narrative, it feels out of place in this music.
What becomes apparent after absorbing Coma Rossi’s eight-song first effort is that the musicianship is up there… way up there. Get rid of the unnecessary SFX and polish up the transitions and there’s a well-rounded prog debut sitting there, waiting to be unwrapped.
Coma Rossi’s self-titled album is out December 20 and can be purchased here.