Praveen: Backed By Spirits
Neo Ouija

For a debut release, New York-based Praveen Sharma's Backed by Spirits is remarkably poised and accomplished. The album is predominantly electronic, with piano the sole 'acoustic' instrument prominently featured (not surprisingly, its heavily processed rumbling rolls are heard most noticeably in the closer “Piano in a Hurricane”), but it's a far from cold or distancing work. Rather Sharma determinedly creates lush ambient settings that are both intimate and inviting; song titles alone (“Float” and “Haze”) hint at the dreamy ambiance cultivated in these nine pieces.

The album's strongest feature is its evocative sonic palette, opulent textures that suggest foreign landscapes resurrected through the hazy screen of memory. In “Real Memories,” rich fields of exotic detail—glissandi, animal chatter, alien voices, sombre tonal washes—conjure the image of a long-hidden oasis discovered deep in a remote forest. Equally evocative, the lovely overture “A Sad Sad Day” softly emerges, with spectral glistenings and starburst cracks suggesting a day's dawning and a subsequent fuller awakening conveyed by a brighter infusion of harp strums, voice utterances, and blurry declarations.

The mood is largely melancholy and often dramatic, “Cecilia's Fruit” a prime example. The piece evolves slowly, opening with sombre tones heard amidst ghostly waves and exotic rattles until, five minutes in, scurrying beats and faint traces of melodies appear. Ponderously propelled by the repetition of a single cymbal strike, “Please Begin” is dramatic too, while the urgent voice babblings and lush layers of golden tones in “Haze” assume greater weight when married to conventional drum patterns and dense washes. At forty minutes, Backed by Spirits is over quickly, here one moment and gone the next, like the dream state it so convincingly simulates.

April 2005