Beats, bagpipes, vocal harmonies and even the occasional sitar accent; this is Unexpected Guests, the new album from Toronto Tabla Ensemble, and to say that it’s offering listeners a smorgasbord of layered sonic magic might be too great an understatement to make this summer.
Right from the start in “Dream Symposium,” it’s clear that Toronto Tabla Ensemble have a keen interest in drawing together various textures and influences to make something purely their own, but I don’t know that I would describe their efforts as aesthetically isolationist at all. On the contrary, this is a group that celebrates the melting pot of melodicism that has become the Canadian underground, and though their methods are hardly like anyone else’s, that could be their most charming feature.
There’s virtually nothing typical about songs like “Monkey Tale,” “Maryem’s Here,” “What’s Going On?” and “Raghupati;” almost every stitch of material on this record, including the title track and its vitality-laced music video, is an amalgamation of conflicting elements (though nothing ever sounds scattered or unfocused). There’s as much love for the percussion in “Toronto Tabla Youth Ensemble” as there is the growling harmony in “Maryem’s Here,” and while all of this material is constructed in a rhythm-first fashion, I wouldn’t call the overall theme of the record single-threaded at all. This is the thinking person’s beat symposium, and even if it takes a couple of dedicated listens to fully-appreciate, it’s an affair I wouldn’t soon pass up as a music critic.
I didn’t know much – if anything – about Toronto Tabla Ensemble before getting ahold of Unexpected Guests this month, but I’m very curious to hear what more they can do in the studio. If this is any sort of indication as to who they are and, more importantly, what kind of ambitions they’ve got when it comes to making original and exciting new beats, Toronto Tabla Ensemble are in for quite the warm reception from listeners in Canada and America alike this season.
They’ve got a one of a kind sound that doesn’t cheaply borrow from anyone else in the name of artistic revolution, and in 2020, they makes them quite the indie find indeed.