Acharya are an emerging avant/alternative pop band from Northern California, consisting of Josh Grayem (lead vocals/guitars) and Daniel Blackburn (drums, percussion). This duo are the creative hub, but Acharya are also a musical collective which feature contributions from other musicians. A few months back I reviewed the title track of this five-track EP which was produced by Dryw Owens.
Their music is essentially cerebral alternative pop/rock that combines the sound of intelligent 80’s/90’s groups like Depeche Mode, Joy Division, Tears For Fears and Talk Talk with the modern production and style of alternative bands like Nothing But Thieves, The xx and Alvvays, as well as aspects of The Killers.
Opening track Spearhead is a fine introduction which establishes their signature sound; a musical bedrock of interweaving, angular guitar and synth lines that manages to be complex yet uncluttered, with arrangements that are structured to allow the music to breathe. This sets the scene for Josh Grayem’s rich, distinctive low-register vocals which bring to mind Dave Gahan, Roland Orzabal and Brandon Flowers.
Just as Joy Division’s music somehow captured the bleak landscape of post-World War II Manchester, the juxtaposition of human elements with synth and production technology somehow mirrors the modern world in Acharaya’s music, akin to Radiohead on OK Computer.
Lyrically, this disparate and disjointed feel is conveyed through taut, focused single lines in succession that bring to mind William Burroughs’ cut-up technique, employed by David Bowie and Kurt Cobain. Spearhead appears to be about capitalism and big business: “Aspirations rise to the top, commitments made that won’t be fulfilled …Spearhead, your target market makes it so hard to choose….”.
I’ve already given my views on the excellent title track Tilt (which you can read here) but, for the uninitiated, it’s a great starting point for listening to this band. Musically, it resurrects the majestic synth rock melancholy of Depeche Mode circa Enjoy The Silence and updates it with slick, but still edgy, modern sounds and production techniques. “Hang your coat and let this great wall crumble…” seems an apposite line for this troubled era.
Third track Vigilance maintains the brooding intensity, this one based around a pulsating low-end guitar line and featuring some highly effective vocal harmonies. The tension of the verse is released in the Idlewild-esque cathartic chorus, with lyrics that are somehow vivid yet opaque: “First cry comes and you feel the cost, the elation creeping up your neck…”. The syncopated section after the second chorus is simply brilliant.
The following Stand sets itself apart through featuring guest lead vocals and piano from Rachel Wagner on the verses (and later combining on the choruses). Her crystalline voice made me think of Liz Frazer (Cocteau Twins) and it acts as a nice contrast to Josh Grayem’s. The lyrics are angst-ridden but stoic: ” This is time for struggle, lines blur, grinding knuckles, so thin, most left wanting, brave this with confidence and pride…”
Last track Continuum (featuring Matt Coate on bass) starts out as the most minimalistic song here, creating an accumulative momentum through repetition, which perfectly fits with the opening lyrics: “Minimize the micro, and the size is so small…”. Having started out in 6/8 time it then gets sucked into a black hole section halfway through. After emerging on the other side there’s another verse in 6/8, then the music unexpectedly switches to a final section in 4/4 time to bring the EP to a suitably epic close.
Overall, with this EP Acharaya have already cemented their artistic sound, style and identity. They have managed to transcend their influences to create futuristic alt. rock music that belongs completely to 2018, both musically and lyrically. I expect this band to make big waves on the alternative scene and can’t wait for a full length album.
VERDICT = 8.8 out of 10