On Parted Plains Ami Dang pushes the concept of traditional sitar to new horizons, weaving South Asian and Middle Eastern folklore with electronics and voice for a record that’s less atmospheric than the instrument is usually utilized. The record works to springboard from the four tragic romances of Punjab, Sohni Mahiwal, Sassi Punnun, Heer Ranjha, and Mirza Sahiba; Flora Annie Steel’s Tales of the Punjab: Folklore of India, and selected stories from One Thousand and One Nights into a new folktale, one that’s neither East nor West, something new. There’s something of a reimagined history to Dang’s work, technology infecting the memory of the past — horse-mounted riders calling to computers in the sky, AI majordomos threaded through data clouds, forbidden love between corporate rivals. It is built on tradition, but something has grafted those traditions to a new set of circumstances.
Her record buries the notion of sitars as instruments of calm — set dressings in weekend yoga retreats to give the air of authenticity. Here the instrument is dangerous, deceptive, heartbreaking. Underneath the narrative of strings, Dang’s electronics burble with kosmiche life, delicate in one instance, dark and hungry the next. The sitar and circuits become symbiotic, feeding each other with anxiety, aloofness, humility, and pain. Though she works away from the sitar’s status as atmosphere or altarpiece, she does still find bucolic bliss between her moments of tension.
“Make Enquiry’s” middle section floats above the fray in ways that bind the burble to the ripple of strings, pulsing with cooling shudders. Similarly, “Sohni” dances along the light, buzzing with delight and delicacy. Those moments are scattered by the rest of the album’s heavier vibes, though. Even the lightly titled “Love-liesse” is streaked with trepidation (though perhaps that’s just as it should be). The final pieces leave Parted Plains in the darker recesses, but richer for it. The album, much like Elkhorn’s instrumentals from earlier in the year paint heavy aural pictures with instrumentals, soundtracking journeys into the heart of night and the most claustrophobic recesses of the soul.
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