Jal - Boondh (2007)

Jal's debut "Aadat" was a huge hit. Jal, in particular, the major songwriter of the band, Goher Mumtaz, can create really melodic and melancholic pop tunes. But unlike "Aadat", where Jal struggled when creating rock numbers such as "Rangon Mein" and re-singing Atif on "Aadat", here, there is no such awkwardness.

Their comeback single, "Sajni" directed by the young and exciting director, Bilal Lashari, is visually beautiful, conceptually works with the tune, and remains the band's finest visual effort.

"Sajni" as a song is extremely catchy. On first listen, it's one of those songs that you just want to nod along to and it is characteristic Jal. Soft, romantic and tinged with desperation for a beloved. And thankfully, Farhan Butt doesn't struggle at all as a vocalist as he croons, "Sajni paas bulao na ke dil aaj tootha hai/Sajni maan jao na ke woe aaj rootha hai". And if you like this "Sajni", there is a slower version that comes at the very end of the album, that is also rather nice. Ali Mustafa does a wonderful job on keyboards and Farhan and gang completely change the pace, making it a lot more heartbreaking.

The Jal guys have grown up and they are back with a sharp and solid follow-up. Goher Mumtaz writes and composes most of the love ditties here and it is safe to say that he is a talented musician. He is a lyricist, songwriter and a vocalist to boot. And he delivers on all three fronts with ease, although it was probably not easy, with such high expectations.

The mood of this album is morbid love, the age-old universal emotion of heartbreak and that remains a significant factor throughout most songs.

From the slow, slightly rockish and haunting ballad, "Payal" where Farhan shows off some varying vocal gymnastics as he croons, "Payal ka shor macha ke/Nindiya se tun jaga ke/Tu kaheen jaaye na" to the gloomy "Moray Piya" with its dismissive and fatigued soul where Farhan surprises with his voice and chants, "Morey morey piya/Kaisey kaisa jeeya/Rishtey sabhi ban jaate hain/Totnay key liye ek lamha" - the love mood plays a significant factor.

It continues with the perfectly blended pop-rock tune, "Kia Se Kia". The only number written and composed by singer Farhan, it's got a very anguished and aggressive musical character with strong, recurring riffs, and fabulous drumming from none other than Gumby himself!

After the success of "Woh Lamhey" and "Dil Harey", Goher Mumtaz returns to the vocal forefront with "Mahia", "Chup Chup" and "Hamein Itna Pyar" and his vocals, which are a lot thinner than Farhan, provide a nice change.

On the introspective and vaguely joyful "Mahia" as Goher sings out "Jaana hai ek din iss dunya se/Jee lein pal do pal hum yeh zindagee", it is a tune that brings some hope and subtle optimism. And this feeling of optimism is present on the mid tempo "Chup Chup" with its "Raasta Kathan/Manzil nahie/Phir bhi main kyun rukta nahie".

And finally, there is "Humain Itna Pyar" which Goher sings but it is the most average number on the album. Plagued with lyrical clichés such as "Dekha har mausam teri ankhon mein/Yeh meri sansen tau teri amanat hain" - it just isn't enough catchy enough to stick for too long. Oddly enough, the slower version of this track, that starts off with a lone, moody piano and one-off riff completely works, clichés notwithstanding.

True rock elements come with "Raatein", "Main Mast Hoon" and "Yeh Mera Pakistan". "Raatein" that initially reminds one of Roxen's rocking "Sapnay", is a solid rock track. As Farhan sings in many constantly changing undertones, "Yaad hai woh sari baatein/Raaton mein din thay/Din thee raatein/Toe kya/Yeh Jeevan aisa na tha/Jaisa hum nain socha" - it remains a decent, bustling tune.

In the same element, one finds "Main Mast Hoon" that is the only Punjabi track on the record. But it is not mysterious Punjabi that is synonymous with Abrar but rather simple as the wordplay goes, "Teray naal hee jeena/Teray naal hee marna/Main mast... Main mast hoon". And musically, it has a percussion heavy sound, which is a welcome. Another good number that should do well at live shows.

While the former tunes are very good, the latter, "Yeh Mera Pakistan" is a strange addition to the album. In these strange times, one really doesn't fall for a number that goes, "Yuhein hastey gaatey rahain/yuhein geet sunatey raahein/bazi har ik le jetay rahain/khushiyan hum nibhatey rahein... Yeh tera Pakistan/Yeh mera Pakistan" - "Yeh Mera Pakistan" is unwarranted and a tad boring.

Jal's album couldn't have come at a better time. "Boondh" - a drop of Jal has come out as emergency was lifted in Pakistan. Every major album by the big guns as well as budding young comers has been shifted to 2008. Even as Rahat Fateh Ali Khan's "Charkha" has released in India, there is still no word on when that album will officially hit markets in Pakistan.

Music channels are looking to run big videos - not necessarily shot on big budgets or conceptually grand - by major artists. Barring runaway hits like "OST of Khuda Kay Liye", even albums from well known veterans like Ali Haider ("Jaanay Do"), Abrar ul Haq ("Naara Sada Ishq Aye") and Hadiqa Kiyani and Aamir Zaki together ("Rough Cut") have all failed to create massive stir amongst fans, concertgoers and perhaps even the industry itself.

Add all this to the fact that Jal's "Boondh" was not even expected to come out this year by most. Goher Mumtaz, Farhan Butt and Shazi had been AWOL from the live circuit, too much media presence, television interviews and appearances for the past year now.

Hence, this release has come unexpectedly as a nice surprise. 2007 was a dull dud and with Pakistan going through a tremulous phase that still continues to haunt us, this album is happy news for the entertainment industry as well as fans at large. Alas! Something to rejoice about.

2004 was the birth of two separate names of music. Back then, we never knew this but slowly it became clear as Atif Aslam and Goher Mumtaz separated from each other. Atif showed more promise because he was the vocalist that shone out. And as far as compositions grew, one still doesn't know who they came from.

Atif came out last year with "Doorie" and wooed the crowds all over again, perhaps even attracted newer fans while critics remained stunned by Doorie's lack of character and filmi-ness.

Hence, there is no comparison between Jal's "Boondh" and Atif's "Doorie". Because, and as strange as it may sound, Atif is coming out with another album, possibly next year, that he claims is the actual sequel to "Aadat", titled "Meri Kahani". When that record hits stores, only then one can make the inevitable comparisons between Atif and Jal.

But for now, Jal are here with an album that is signature melancholic pop that is the niche of Jal. It is sharper and far more melodic in sound than Aadat and as a sequel, it is impressive. It also dabbles in rock without being clumsy in sound.

Goher has repeatedly said that this album is testament to the growth and maturity of Jal as musicians even as it stays true to their sound and he is right.

Have we heard it the words before? In some way or the other, yes. Love is a common, perhaps the most common emotion running through music, especially in Pakistan. Paradoxically enough, it is the album's weakest as well as strongest trait. Weakest because it is predictable and strongest because Jal can create music that matches the heartbreak feel superbly and rather intelligently.

And this time around, there is no discomfort when the rock element slyly comes in and mixes with quite a few melodies.

Is "Boondh" groundbreaking? No, but groundbreaking comes every once in a while. Strings' "Duur" (2000), Fuzon's "Saagar" (2002), EP's "Irtiqa" (2003), Mekaal Hasan Band's "Sampooran" (2004), Ali Azmat's "Social Circus" (2005), Rushk's "Sawal" (2006), Hadiqa Kiyani and Aamir Zaki's "Rough Cut" (2007) - these are records that are musically astounding and have broken new ground as far as character and the invention of a brand new sound is concerned.

There is maybe one album every year that manages to do so. Jal may not be breaking too many experimental boundaries with "Boondh" but they do manage to live up to all the hype and expectations.

Sequels really are a tricky business, in Pakistan, just like anywhere else in the world. Fortunately, most elements work on this record. Farhan Butt finally arrives as a vocalist. He has improved phenomenally as a singer. Mekaal Hasan's acumen as a producer shines throughout, Gumby and Salman Albert do a fabulous job with drums and Shazi manages to string bass lines with ease. And the band leader Goher Mumtaz has proven that he is a definite asset to the music industry.

Jal are a talented unit. But they have to be more careful of lyrics. Simplicity is a welcome, clichés aren't. And that is what will define them in the coming years. For now, grab a copy of "Boondh!"

Maheen Sabeeh
The News International, Pakistan