Mr. Todu’s debut album Aadarsh Bars is an all-out exercise in maximalism, genre-hopping every other track and blending sounds and styles which would otherwise not find a place together in one project. The album has come after three EPs released in the past few months and is written, produced, recorded and engineered by Todu himself. The album also features Deadbot a rapper from Jaipur and a Mumbai-based producer/DJ Blame Adam on two tracks.
From the album cover, its colour gradient and the font to the sheer variety of sonic influences that are juxtaposed, Aadarsh Bars is a tongue in cheek album which doesn’t take itself too seriously, except maybe in ‘FREE US’, an outright political track. The album is a self-aware exercise in kitsch best exemplified in lines such as “Yeh nalle rapperon ki / Weak rhyme schemes nahi sunni / Sunni mujhe remix CD / D-DJ Aqeel ki” in ‘RYDAZ UTD’, a song that gleefully announces blasting old tracks while driving. Or consider the line “Nalla jaali paper kara cop / With that corny psytrance / Playlist on lock / Gandi waali BT / Hua mood kaafi off” from the opening track ‘AADARASH BARS’, a comedic take on hip-hop vocabulary of Mumbai.
The comedic tone does not mean that Todu distances himself from Mumbai, a place where the album is resolutely situated. In ‘chai-sutta’, a romantic song with its own peculiar sense of humour, the chorus laments the loss the loved one by evoking a quintessential feature of the cityscape of nighttime Mumbai, “Woh cycle waali chai / Saath sutte do”. A geography of bars is evoked beyond the title of the album, “Ab hun chalaa jaata akele / Bahaar mein / To bars in Khar West / And Dominoes”. In the closing track of the album ‘Q’, a minimal track with a krautrock-ish beat and synths, Todu clarifies his association to city deftly, “Na jaane mujhe hills pe / I like the sea / True Bombay boy at heart / Love the rains with some tea”.
The album stands out not because of it its tongue-in-cheek lyricism but because of its production. The mix of genres that the album traverses range from the in-your-face rap-rock sound of ‘AADARSH BARS’, to the use of cheap sounding synth patches in ‘kadhva sach’, to the alt-rock vibe of tracks like ‘buri khabar’ which might very well be a throwback to a Hindi track from another decade, or the krautrock flow in ‘Q’. There runs a strain of industrial music throughout the album in whose light the peculiar juxtaposition of guitars, synths, drum patterns, singing and rapping makes all the more sense.
The kitschy tone of the sung parts in the album might throw off some listeners if they approach the album too seriously. But the album really came together for me when I imagined it playing in a namesake Aadarsh Bars, a bar supposedly in Andheri but one that could really be anywhere, with the gradients of lights from the album cover bouncing on the reflective surfaces while drinking some cheap alcohol. As the night blurs in with the bright neon-lights so do the various sounds playing in the bar mixing with the range of genres one has heard growing up. Aadarsh Bars stands out with its outright embrace of the out-there and with its lack of fear of clashing different sounds and genres. Approach the album with a sense of humour and you might just come away from it a little hazy about where to slot the album. That probably was the intended effect.