It’s an album that keeps you guessing. From one song to the next, for 27 minutes, Sikandar ka Mandar’s debut is unpredictable, covering a wide range of influences.
Kicking things off with the upbeat rock of Mein Idhar Khara Hoon, the opening number is imbued with the energy and presence this band brings to the live stage. While it’s easy to be captivated by the showmanship of lead vocalist Nadir Shahzad Khan, moving into the second song it becomes clearer the way in which the band layers minimalist elements for a more complex whole.
On Badshah the individual talents of Sikandar ka Mandar’s musicians have space to breathe, and make their presence more distinctly felt. This includes the work of multi-instrumentalist Ali Suhail, whose background vocals throughout the album provide the foundation that elevates Khan’s considerable vocal range.
Although the song initially comes across as a ballad, the inspiration behind it goes deeper, connecting to the construct of a new society, with its roots in Khan’s mind. And while Badshah’s production has an aural depth that gets under your skin, its real strength lies in a more restrained approach, evident whenever the song is performed live.
Jo Bhi is the reason I became a fan. Although it has an upbeat tone that urges the listener to sing along, the song is more melancholy than it first appears. It is also a great example of how the band’s harmonisation adds strength to their music. These harmonies approach a hymnal quality on Bhai Jan, a track that is moody and brief, with little aside from vocals making up the body of the song. But on Jo Bhi, the combination of a mandolin and banjo add complexity to what is essentially a great tune, one that changes in tempo before the different segments come full circle.
Doosri Duniya is grunge rock, appealing in its lack of refinement. At times the varying production quality on the album can throw the listener, but here the inconsistency adds character to the song, reminding one of the genres early days, prior even to the bands that made it popular in the ’90s.
The music takes an electronically influenced eerie turn with Doosray Log.
Like other songs on the album, Doosray Log has a subtle start that develops into a peak later on in the song, effectively pulling listeners deeper into the music for an immersive experience.
Hum Tum Yeh Woh is a live number that displays the collaborative efforts of the Lussun TV collective. Talha Wynne of //orangenoise provides a haunting accompaniment with the recorder, and the percussive talents of Danial Hyatt lead the charge on another song in which the intensity varies, keeping you guessing till the last note.
In keeping with the pattern of coming full circle, the album culminates with the straightforward rock of Bemisal. Once more the individual talents of the musicians complement and combine, and as the song winds the album up, you can’t help but go for another listen.
The common thread through these eight songs is the consideration of how people perceive contentment. Sikandar ka Mandar explores the notion that there’s plenty out there with which to fill your cup, ample reason for a positive outlook despite the tribulations around us. Even at its most gregarious moments, the songs on this album prompt a sense of introversion, a silent consideration of the world and people around us.
The earnestness with which Nadir Shahzad and his fellow band members have taken on the task of making music makes it easy to overlook the learning curve of home studio produced music. Between the strength of its compositions and powerful live presence, Sikandar ka Mandar is at the forefront of young Pakistani bands that inspire confidence in a burgeoning movement.
Asad Khawaja is the host of Moonlight Mile, airing 10:30-midnight on CityFM89. He can be found on Twitter; @asadmkh.