Co-ven vol 3: A Review

by Zia Ahmad                                                                                                                                                                             

A bone of contention that rock musicians in Pakistan have from time to time is the dearth of work. The strife is more pronounced when one is adamant to steer clear of corporate endorsements and mindless, populist pandering, and sticking to its own independent point of view. Co-ven has no such qualms and manages to find plentiful of work in the face of growing bland plastic aesthetics and sensibility. Other than the preceding vol 1 & 2, members of the band have been instrumental with Omran Shafique’s  Urdu rock outfit, Mauj. Between handling Co-ven/Mauj chores the band also appeared as session players on Zeb & Hanya’s impressive album Chup. No dearth of work there. Extracurricular activities notwithstanding, Co-ven has a new record out. 

For their  third formal release, the band (comprised of Hamza Jafri on vocals and guitars, Omran Shafique on guitars, Sameer Ahmed on bass guitar and Sikander Mufti on drums and percussion) recorded at Ravenous Studio Lahore and brought in Omar Hussain (singer and songwriter of the musical duo Omar and Tania) as producer and the recording engineer. The band’s previous vol 1 & 2 were produced by Mekal Hasan at his Digital Fidelity Studio in Lahore. Other than a change in production chores and venue, the album also marks a departure in the way the songs were written.

On the previous release, the main structures of the songs were written by Hamza Jafri while he was living in London. Upon his return to Lahore, he met with other band members who later on added their own parts. After three weeks of rehearsal, Co-ven went to the studio to record, on a rather tight deadline, within four to five days. 

This time around, the band had more of a breathing room. All the songs on the album emerged from jam sessions. Over the course of a year Co-ven worked on the songs before heading to the studio. With a more flexible working arrangement, it took four months to record the songs. Rather than having each musician lay down a different track in the studio and let the engineer mix the tracks later, the band followed up the organic inception of the songs and recorded them live. Co-ven continued to work on the album intermittently during the post-production period which took another eight months.

Ready to Die starts the proceedings on this mini album. The song has been around for more than a year now gaining a fervent following, helped no less by its blunt, minimalistic lyrics borrowing Urdu phrases and a generally confrontational tone. Ready to Die appeared as a mild oddity on youtube with the song playing over a red map of Pakistan alongside its words. Soon enough the song was a staple feature of Co-ven’s setlist on whichever gig it happened to play. Only recently has the song found a more formal exposure through a video shot on a rooftop in interior Lahore. The song itself has weighty presence featuring Queens of the Stone Age like menacing build ups and crashing agit-rock posturing.

Despite being a song with obvious political connotations and also the fact that it’s one of those very rare songs that directly address the current mess our country finds itself in, Ready to Die has found wide acceptance and popularity amongst local rock listeners. This very fact alongside the familiarity attached with the song provides a familiar entry point into the succeeding collective of songs.

Beyond the opening track, the socio-political awareness of the band is attested more notably on X-Ray. In a possible nod to Orwell’s Animal Farm, various beasts play metaphor to more human counterparts involved in the climate of fear addressed in the song. The style on the song harkens back to the grunge sound of the 90s though takes its own distinctive shape in the chorus section supplemented with agile guitar licks.

The following The Man Himself continues the political commentary of the preceding two songs featuring a colorful cast made up of rising generals, dying kings, fat princes, young men as well as dragons and serpents. The lyric content is consistent with other songs on this mini-album yet the verse/chorus combination yields a less than steady whole. A staccato laden opening verse seems rather out of place before turning into a more recognizable chorus that is more on par with the sound of the band: earnest, driving and emotive.

Other than Ready to Die the rest of the songs on this mini-album seem to share a pattern; a sporadic and abrupt guitar intro that leads into a song with splashes of evocative vocals. Hamza Jafri appears to have seasoned as a singer in this outing. The emotive wails are impressively rendered and such is also at display on You, the fourth track on the album. Less overtly political in context to the rest of the songs on the album You showcases Hamza Jafri’s dexterous interplay with words and takes it to dark, unfamiliar and even unsettling places, threatening to turn itself into an earworm. Yes, the song is catchy, albeit in a darker mould.

Plan B starts off more conventionally than the rest of the songs on the album and is more reminiscent of a fellow rock artist from Lahore Shahzad Hamid in the intro section. The lyrics subscribe to the socio-political template of the entire minialbum, replete with eagles and crows yet are more telling in its vividness. The song contains just about the right mix of harmonies, unpretentious guitarwork, nimble textures and appropriate feel to deliver it into a full bodied rock song.

With the meticulous production details coupled with the organic premise of the songs on this album, chances are Co-ven will go on to consolidate its position as a thinking man’s rock band in Pakistan.

The album can be heard at http://www.reverbnation.com/covenband and is out for sale.

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