Hrishikesh Hirway goes
by the stage name the One A.M. Radio. The L.A.-based Massachusetts native
makes albums and EPs that most would, on casual listen, place firmly in the
folktronica bin — which might in fact be the most appropriate place for
them — but with a twist or two.
Since around 1997 or
so, Hirway’s been refining and releasing his gently broody blend of
acoustic guitars, twining violins, glitchy electronics and prominent
polybeats, including his 2002 debut album, The Hum of Electric Air!, 2004’s A Name Writ in Water and a thumpingly good EP in 2006 called On the
Shore of the Wide World,
featuring remixes by some of L.A.’s finest, namely Daedelus and John
full-length, This Too Will Pass,
on the Dangerbird label, was finally deemed ready to be born after a
somewhat hellish year during which young Hirway spent downtime in solitude
at his now-vacant childhood home, or crashing on friends’ floors, or in his
car, on a rootless journey that took him from L.A. to India and back again.
So what was up with
Hrishikesh Hirway? The short version is that this was simply the chronicle
of that typically troubling time of life when crumbling relationships and
faltering identities tend to make a big mess of things for young people,
especially perhaps for those who’d dedicate themselves to a life of art.
The longer version involves the notion that great (or at least, very good)
results — or at the very, very least, some kind of catharsis — can result
from these times of loneliness, confusion and pain.
Hirway has another,
less arty reason the album took so long to make, however.
“I work really slowly,”
he says. “I’ve never been a prolific writer; it’s always been a really slow
process for me to finish one song. And on this record, it moved even slower
because I was moving around a lot.”
He’d been living in
L.A. for a couple of years, and left in 2004 to do some freelance
graphic-design work for Apple in San Francisco. It was a good way to make
some money, and was only a three-month commitment.
When he was finished,
Hirway went back to the East Coast for a while, played some shows, and then
returned to Los Angeles, where he found himself staying in sublets or doing
the couch tour at his mates’ flats.
We flirt with the
melodramatic here, but the fact is, Hirway had entered a period when he’d
finished school, broken off a long-standing relationship, and was left
wondering, frankly, if he had any music left in him at all, or if indeed
the life of an itinerant minstrel was any proper path for a Yale graduate
such as himself.
“I’d been having a
block for a while, after the last record had come out,” he says. “I’d
toured for almost a year solid after it came out, and while I was doing
that, I just wasn’t really writing.”
So in the time-honored
tradition of several scores of seekers before him, he went to India.
Hirway’s time spent
helping out his extended family there, and reading books, served to shake
things loose, mentally. But it was his Indian uncle’s divorce — still quite
a tumultuous thing in that mainly conservative country — that finally
severed his writer’s block.
“Seeing my uncle’s
situation — and I was reading Anna Karenina at the time — and trying to figure out who he is,
I recognized some parallels. There’s something about having that distance
for your metaphor . . .”
So Hrishikesh Hirway endured
quite a bit of turmoil to get the material for This Too together; thus it’s no big shock that the results
show such a quantum leap in emotional depth and musical substance. The
album’s overarching themes of isolation, unease, upheaval and acceptance
come heavily laden with a sumptuously produced cornucopia of audio
delights, including lovely cello and violin interplay with his longtime
collaborator Jane Yakowitz; various friends added a tasty ensemble sound of
upright bass, French horn, trumpet and trombone; Hirway pounded real drum
skins (recorded at Coverge’s studio in Salem, Massachusetts, for an
extra-scary monster sound), and the aforementioned Daedelus threw down
While tracks such as
“Lest I Forget,” “A Brittle Filament” and “Where I’m Headed” demonstrate
Hirway’s gift for lyrical delicacy in exploring the hurts and strains of
growing up absurd in an often annoyingly adrenalized world, it’s the
foreboding instrumental textures and chillingly beautiful melodies of
tracks such as “Fires” and “Your Name” that will most likely etch
themselves firmly into the brain and heart.
It’s interesting too,
and probably totally lame, to ponder how Hirway’s time spent in his
family’s native India might have affected the surprisingly multihued sound
of This Too Will Pass. While
the album doesn’t appear overly impacted in any obvious way by recognizable
Indian styles, classical, pop or otherwise, the gloriously unbiased way it
combines tonalities and textures betrays an influence from the Old Country
that he says is buried in his music’s DNA.
“I grew up listening to
Indian music,” he says, “especially old Bollywood classics from the ’50s
and ’60s that my folks listened to when they were growing up. Even more
than the records, though, my memory of that music is my mom singing it. In
a sort of defractive way, Indian music is filtering within my own life.”
Whatever the case,
Hrishikesh Hirway is back on track. Doing the album helped; signing with
Dangerbird, he says, was a godsend. He’s back in L.A., too, and quite happy
to be here.
“Those questions I was
asking: Where is it I belong? What’s the life that I’m trying to live? And
more immediately, where am I gonna do it? A lot of these things came
together. I’m not sure what will come of that, musically. This Too Will
Pass was about trying to find
some kind of solace in the idea that there is a resolution, yet that often
you just have to let go of the need for resolution. And it’s so nice to
start accumulating furniture and stuff again.”