She’s an afflatus, sings Jaimin Rajani somewhere in the middle of the 8.30-minute-long track She. “To a bar full of writers/ Unable to write she is one,” he goes on. She is also “a songbird when nothing sounds good to my ears” and “Eliot in letters where language will fail”. She is a nomad, history, a mystery, a graveyard, a hero unsung. With over 30 such analogies, mostly framed as elegant tercets, She is Jaimin’s input to the longstanding tradition of singer-songwriters — Charles Aznavour, Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello — pedestalising the women they love.
She is the longest track on Jaimin’s debut album Cutting Loose, but not the only one with a certain literariness in its lyrics (nor are you, in googling afflatus). At 14 songs, and lasting a full hour, Cutting Loose is an album in the traditional sense of the word, a rare thing at a time when artistes drop singles or three-song EPs with all the fanfare of birthing the next king of England. What’s more, it is packed to the rafters with guest musicians who, between them, could stand as something of an All Stars league of Indian independent rock, folk and jazz music.
Cutting Loose arrived in late August on streaming platforms and has been gathering steady momentum, buoyed only by word-of-mouth and a barebones marketing plan devised by the artiste himself. It is all especially impressive considering Jaimin, a Mumbai-born, Kolkata-bred musician, picked up an instrument for the first time only at the age of 23, eight years ago.
From being an MBA graduate, with no roots or ties with the music industry, to his debut album featuring the likes of Rahul Ram (Indian Ocean), Ralph Pais (The Savages), Rohan Ganguli (The Supersonics), sitar player Kalyan Majumdar, the folk-music legend Susmit Bose and even Vermont folk musician Patrick Fitzsimmons and slide guitarist Billy Cardine from North Carolina, among others — Jaimin’s rise has been one of a kind.
Add to that a core band with lead guitarist and producer Subharaj Ghosh, saxophonist Abhay Sharma, violinist Protyay Chakraborty and Arjun Chakraborty on drums — and you have a powerful array of instrumentalists backing Jaimin’s vocals to shine — the songs, he told Rolling Stone India, are about “conflicts, disappointments and departure”. Drenched in a soundscape where the acoustic and electric guitar, cymbals, harmonica, violin, sitar and drunken synths meet muted drumming and an unusually light finger on the keys, Jaimin’s preoccupations are as millennial as they come.
The pensive mood of the album openers Home and Autumn Leaves, the latter calling for a “change in ways”, gives way to the upbeat skip of She’s Running Late, a playful love song — which incidentally features the highest number of collaborators of all songs on this album. It inheres a distinctly country flavour, as it does in another track, Let Me Find A Way Out, which is seemingly about nothing.
“A friend in weed is a friend indeed,” he sings in the final track, Wore My Heart on My Sleeve, which is ostensibly a breakup song featuring a “Ms stiff upper lip”. In She’s Running Late, he sketches about missing the beginning of the show, and throws in a zinger of a line with “why does the treble overthrow the warm baritone”. And Something Here to Stay is about leaving behind your mark, or the creative spark that we all have in us.
In One More Night, he muses on taking the path less taken. I’m Going Solo is, possibly, the most autobiographical in the lot — Jaimin asserts his right to pay no heed to the warnings thrown in his direction but instead be mindful of his yearnings. There’s also travel, with Varanasi, a piece about the land of mysticism and its odd contradictions that paradoxically keep you coming back. And then there is a track like This One’s For You, significantly more cryptic, a row of visuals, something of a noir drama, its meaning is yours to decode.
Cutting Loose does not feature fancy vocal flourishes, no lyrical acrobatics. It is 14 songs that meditate on life and love through metaphors of nature. It is suffused with intelligent instrumentation and a certain introspective quality that seems to have gone missing lately.
Frankly, there is not much left on the Indian music landscape – where rap rules, rock reigns, and Sunburn well, burns – that’s as gentle, strummable, hummable as this. If gentle, well-thought-out and well-put-together music is your jam, this is worth your time.
In that, Cutting Loose has all the hallmarks of longevity. There’s an everlasting quality to Jaimin’s lyrics, and to the wonderful production — replete with harmony, melody and a warmth that seeps through every note, no matter how melancholic the subject matter. I can’t imagine listening to these songs in 2050 and feeling like they are outdated. They will age, but in the best way, that is they will likely acquire a tinge of nostalgia. And with all things that remind you of a younger, happier time, dismissal on account of irrelevance is an unlikely fate for Jaimin’s Cutting Loose.Jaimin’s Cutting Loose is out now on all platforms