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Vanguard: The Unseen Guest - Out There
By Mark Hensch

The debut album from singer/songwriter duo Declan Murray and Amith Narayan (jointly named the Unseen Guest) astound listeners on both sides of the world with music that's international, eclectic, strange, quiet, sparse, and interesting. The story of how The Unseen Guest was spawned is amazing as well; a traveler to the lower half of India, a man named Declan Murray, would later meet his bandmate, an Indian by the name of Amith Naraya. The bard-like Murray had an impromptu jam session with Amith, later resulting in an e-mail and a return trip to the Kerala region of India for an actual CD. Besides it's recording in India, the disc would later be mastered in Ireland and would feature (besides its line-up of Murray and Narayan) a revolving door of six musical collaborators, most of them local Indian artists happy to record for a friend and play instruments unique to the land of India.

Thus this is what makes Out There so interesting. Murray has a flair for writing straight-up, introspective, and subtle acoustic pieces of Western alternative. Combined with the much-more interesting (at least for a Westerner like me) array of Indian instruments, such as dholaks, tablas, ganjras, and mridangams to name a few, this CD is the perfect example of a relaxed and peaceful driving/reading/sleeping/thinking album. Somewhat independent, the CD is also self-released, a tribute to music by a group of men who live for it, be it foreign melodies or more home-grown fare.

Take the opening track "Let Me In" as an example. Clean pop chords are strummed but before you can pass this off as some folksy pretender, some interesting twists are added. Strange Indian percussions are thrown in for a tripping beat, and other instruments provide an almost taunting orchestration background to the song, their weird strings perfectly backing the more conventional guitars and lead vocals. As a side note, Murray's vocals are quiet, talented, and interesting. The lyrics are superb and abnormal, less about bleeding hearts and more about searching through cryptic clues for messages of life. 

"In The Black" is a soothing dual between crystal-clear guitar and Indian instruments, with tropping Sanskrit percussions adding several more hooking elements sure to peak the interest of the listener. 

"Anywhere Somewhere" is one of the most straightforward tracks in terms of Eastern musical influences, and the dual vocals are amazingly reflective and awe-inspiring, in that quiet "driving down a dark road for the hell of it looking at the stars" kind of way.

"Listen My Son" is bouncy, twangy, and largely Western folk-pop, complete with some banjo strumming. Despite the appearance of the Mandolin, and some interesting pieces for it, I feel that this is one of the less entertaining tracks on the CD, albeit still a good one. It's got that "friend-to-friend" wisdom, almost preachy, in the lyrics, and it's an awesome driving tune; it just lacks the mind blowing fun of the first few songs. 

"Mangala Express" is one of the strongest tracks on the album, a wholly instrumental piece that is almost totally Indian in instrumentation. Great, peaceful, and free-flowing Eastern melodies, free from the bonds of sense or reason that sometimes make Western tunes so bland. 

The equally grand "Sandalista" is the first success on this CD mixing bounce and "step-in-foot" dynamics between Eastern and Western conventions of music. The mix of Indian percussion, funky bass lines, and strumming guitar fuses together flawlessly for a great sing-along song by the pool in the sun. "Out There" is an awesome upbeat jam with some oddly fitting harmonium parts. It's tick-tock beats are sure to have people bobbing their heads with grins on their faces. 

"Circle in the Dirt" is twangy ballading with Eastern percussions. "One Down" has bluesy harmonica, pianos, and more Indian percussions for a fun eclectic grab-bag of alternative. 

"Never Enough", with its jamming coffee barista fun, is like seeing an upbeat and talented jam band on the streets of a crowded city play just for you. It's also a fitting song to close with; even after somewhere around forty-five minutes of stellar songwriting, I feel like I haven't had enough of these musicians, and it just might be "never enough."

In conclusion, amazing pop rock for people all over the Earth. Generally, alternative/pop/folk is not my cup of tea, but having been to Asia once I find the Eastern take on music very compelling, and The Unseen Guest doesn't disappoint. This is the high-point of chill-out music with worldly flair. If you like music, and are willing to take minor risks, do yourself (and the band) a favor by purchasing this wonderful gem of an album. 
 



CD Info 

The Unseen Guest - Out There
Label: Intuition Records
Rating
 
Tracks:
1. Let Me In
2. In The Black
3. Anywhere Somewhere
4. Listen My Son
5. Mangala Express
6. Sandalista
7. Out There
8. Circle in the Dirt
9. One Down
10. Never Enough
 
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