I Hear a Symphony: Ramesh’s The King Proves He Has Solo Staying Power

by Jake Muncy

Ramesh the King

Ramesh’s The King starts off plaintively, with a heartfelt piano melody underlining its title track. It puts me immediately in mind of, of all things, Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car,” with its oft-cliched but entirely true ability to make anyone ugly cry. “The King” has that same sort of unattractive intimacy, a melody seemingly designed to tug on the heartstrings a bit. “And I”m asking you, can you still love me after all the hell I’ve put you through?” This is an album about aftermaths, about finding something after losing it for a long, long time. It’s also occasionally a dance pop party. It’s a little confusing.

Aftermath seems an appropriate theme for Ramesh Srivastava. Formerly, he was lead vocalist for Voxtrot, a blog-rocky indie pop band that experienced an abrupt rise and equally abrupt fall in the late aughts. Upon their break up in 2010, Ramesh wrote that their arc was “one of long, simmering build, explosion, and almost instantaneous decay.” This history, and the not inconsiderable debt it owes to the parallel rise of music blog culture, might explain the quieter build up and release of The King, Ramesh’s first full-length solo album. Funded partially through a Kickstarter campaign, the album released with little fanfare earlier this year. The vinyl drops this week, courtesy of Austin Town Hall Records.

“The Kickstarter campaign really served to remind me that there were still people in the world who were receptive to my music,” Ramesh told me earlier this week. “ I was in such a dark place at the time I began that campaign—it is truly one of the most encouraging and touching experiences of my life thus far.” That movement, between “darkness and light,” as Ramesh put it to me, is a characterizing one on this album. Many of these tracks start sparse, layering in sounds and emotions as they go on, and the lyrics consistently return to themes of return and rebirth, religious language for an artist’s journey.

“In ecstacy I’m born again,” Ramesh sings on “American Lust,” one of the album’s standout tracks. “In ecstacy the pain you gave me/ was a beautiful feeling.”  It opens with minimal, bassy guitar plucks, then layers in elements, ending in an indie pop hymn, with horns, an inspired inclusion of harpist Molly Cook, and a guitar solo that somehow (?) works on top of all of that. This track, like almost half the album, was recorded and mixed with Jim Eno of Spoon, and his work here lends a dense, polished energy.

Not everything here works, however. The next track, “Romeo (Void)”, is a dancier number, with synthy beats and, well, lyrics about being caught in someone’s Romeo void. Ramesh’s soft, earnest voice gives the track a vibe that’s nearly boyband-y, and it’s a feeling that just doesn’t seem comfortable with the rest of the album. The next track, “Lux,” starts with a haunted whisper before getting droney and loud. It picks up later on, composing itself and giving out some fascinating and pained lyrics (“but the memory of you/ in your best gaze/ walking across the streets of my fatherland”), but the track as a whole just left me confused. Earlier on the album, “Youth Trip” has a similar problem as “Romeo (Void),” getting dancier than maybe fits with the vibe and losing some of the album’s momentum along the way. This is an album that banks on its own intimacy, and it feels like it loses an important part of its identity when it pulls out from Ramesh’s storytelling and piano. The prettier tracks run the risk of getting a little overly sentimental, but they function together as a strong unit, and tracks like “Romeo (Void)” kind of kill the mood.

“I like to think of the album as a symphony,” Ramesh explained to me, “one continuous piece that could be (and most likely will be) performed on stage with no breaks.” The album ends, then, in a properly symphonic way, with a beautiful instrumental track and a six-minute closer as coda, “Nature,” which reinforces the album’s themes and mood. “Art (most specifically music) is the thing that most moves me,” Ramesh said. “That and nature, although I understand art as almost a continuation of nature. It is my main reason for being and is my most viable language for understanding all things.” Ramesh went on to tell me that The King was largely inspired by the journeys of other artists—“Paradise” is dedicated in the liner notes to Keith Haring—and The King is a proper artist’s album, uneasy and maybe overly earnest. Not everything here works, and the poppier moments feel like an unfortunate relic from the blog rock days of yore, but the 43 minutes of this album have a lot to offer, and Ramesh Srivastava is an artist who’s proving he has staying power beyond his boom and bust past.

The King is out now. Ramesh will be playing this Friday, June 20th, at Holy Mountain with Abram Shook, Young Girls, and She Sir.

Jake Muncy is a freelance writer, editor, and poet living in Austin, TX. In addition to writing for Ovrld, his writing appears on Loser City and anywhere else he can convince people to post it. You can contact him by email or twitter, where he tweets regularly about video games, the Mountain Goats, and sandwiches. He has very strong feelings about Kanye West.