Montreal-based, ethnically Indian multi-instrumentalist Rishi Dhir left his mod rock/power pop outfit The High Dials to concentrate on the sitar and his own catalog of compositions. This subsequently led to Elephant Stone, and the band’s debut record The Seven Seas. With that background, I was excited at the prospect of a full album of blazing raga-rock, totally psychedelic and tripped out, hopefully over a solid foundation of sing-along enabling anthemic tunage. Indeed, Elephant Stone borrows its name from the stoner rock of Stone Roses.
Unfortunately, straight off the boat, album opener ‘Bombs Bomb Away’ makes clear that the guitar and the sitar shan’t be making sweet love together on equal terms here. The first three songs are actually void of Indian intonations, breezing through territory crowded by timeless hits and perennial classics. Heartland rock by Tom Petty, British arena rock a la Manic Street Preachers, and jangly classic rock like the Blue Oyster Cult are some of the reference points that come to mind. Among the five anti-sitar tracks on the album ‘Oh, Heartbreaker’ is the only true winner, mostly because it closely resembles songs by the Magnetic Fields, who do a far wittier job of recreating classics.
It’s only when the sitar kicks in on the title track ‘The Seven Seas’ that there’s an immediate, jubilant recognition: “Ah, here we go, this is what we were waiting for.” The sitar takes the lead role, with sexy results. Lyrics referencing the Himalayas and the Gandharvas drive home the eastern vibe. Whereas ‘The Seven Seas’ is really a straightforward pop tune with the delightful texture of ‘Norwegian Wood’, ‘The Straight Line’ that follows it is a blazing seven minute funkadelic instrumental, a cross-germination of Kula Shaker’s ‘Govinda’ hit and psyched out improv soundtrackers Shalabi Effect, also of Montreal. The album closes with the only two other sitar-powered tracks, ‘A Morning Song’, for post-acid trip staring at the sun, and ‘Don’t You Know’, the album’s only other 7-minute raga funk fest, quite reminiscent of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Kashmir’.
Rock has always fetishized raga, which is in many ways, the original rock. Considering the similarities between some classical Indian scales and the Western pentatonic that forms the basis of most rock and pop, it’s somewhat disappointing that more Indians haven’t been able to push the fusion further. Although initially disappointing however, this debut album is a grower, with melodies conducive to soundtracking special summertime moments, in India and elsewhere.