Jitwam’s Debut Album is a Dream You Don’t Want to End

Ben Grenrock takes a look at the debut LP from Jitwam.
By    November 28, 2017


Ben Grenrock is a Jungian.

“It seems to fill my head with ideas—only I don’t exactly know what they are!”–Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass, And What Alice Found There

The only advice I can give you is to stop thinking. Let those cerebral RPM’s retreat from the redline 2017’s news cycle has had them revving at. Just shut the conscious brain off for a few moments and save yourself an exercise in frustration and futility. Then, and only then, listen to Jitwam’s debut album ज़ितम सिहँ. Don’t try to categorize, interpret, or rationalize it. Instead, release that iron-fisted grip on the concrete and the definite. Stop thinking. Let go. You’ve been clutching at smoke.

Like that dream your Freudian psychologist keeps prattling on about, ज़ितम सिहँ ripples with contradiction, sexuality, and multiplicity. But even to the pipe-breathed and cocaine-dependent among us, Jitwam’s record defies analysis. The best I can manage is that it sounds like Conan Mockasin headlining a Low End Theory show in Varanasi; it is both sensorially confounding and intoxicatingly brilliant—as lithe and indefinite as a question mark.

Up until the Sergeant Pepper’s-esque vocals float in, the album’s first track, “thelove,” could be a cut off of the latest Samiyam record—it has the maximalist density, the perfectly placed flourishes of treble, and the gelatinous wobble of a drunken sumo wrestler that have become the calling cards of Mr. Sam Baker. But ज़ितम सिहँ’s final track, “youkilledmyson,” is a world away from the beat scene aesthetic. It features just a guitar, the sound of breaking waves, and a sample from the HBO series Oz. Yet both songs—and the prismatic compositions that bridge them—are undeniably linked, united by their pathos and something even less tangible.

In case you’ve been wondering, ज़ितम सिहँ translates to either “Jitwam” or to “self titled” (Google Translate returns “Jitm Sihँ”…so make of that what you will). Whatever it literally means, it’s hard to imagine a more apt title for the record, in large part because—to those of us not fluent in Hindi, at least—its definition appears esoteric. Jitwam, an India-born world-traveler, multiinstrumentalist, and producer, composed the record utilizing a practice dubbed “first thought, best thought,” popularized in the early 70’s by beat-poet Allen Ginsburg.

As its name suggests, this technique harnesses the unconscious via spontaneity and improvisation to create something that is so deeply personal it might be impossible for even its creator to unravel the threads that tie self to object. Thus, ज़ितम सिहँ is a collection of raw ideas that snowballed into song, recorded before their singular Jitwamness could be diluted by any aerosolized motes of conformity. But because it’s all coming from Jitwam’s unconscious mind, what that “Jitwamness” represents appears to be as much an impressionist mystery to him as to anyone listening.

“I’m a woman/ with cajones/ I got balls that you think you wanna roll with/ Your trinkets don’t mean shit/ to a crazy mother fucker,” he moans on “trinkets.” This sort of wry humor and preoccupation with dichotomies are not isolated to “trinkets”’s opiated float through Wonderland’s red light district; they are motifs that weave in and out of the record and its serpentine representations of the artist’s identity. 

“yesiknw” sounds—in the best way—like a B-Side from Radiohead’s In Rainbows, but with the two magically opposite qualities of Thom Yorke’s voice separated and then thrown into a circular conversation. “Yes I know, yes I know,” the low and high voices reassure each other over drums so deep in the pocket they might qualify as a concealed weapon. But the words seem to be full of sentiment and sentiment alone; as if neither voice actually knows anything at all, and all that’s left to do is to whirl around in conciliatory orbit, like anxious dervishes in the darkness. This sort of sonic and lyric fluidity make for a record nearly impossible capture or understand. It truly must be experienced.

The record’s only shortcoming is that many of its songs seem to end a little before they ought to, giving short shrift to whatever exquisite thought Jitwam has plucked from the ether. “goodlord” might be the track most guilty of this. So lyrically and dynamically flawless is its buildup that “goodlord” seems to slip away far too quickly, just before a well-earned payoff has time to develop.

This may be intentional—as the song seems to be about the death of a close friend, a life cut short—but from a less conceptual perspective, a resolution would have been nice. The fleeting nature of many songs on ज़ितम सिहँ reinforces their “first thought, best thought” genesis, and does little to detract from their impact. Still, it can produce that nagging sensation of a memory escaping your grasp before you’ve fully been able to explore it, or of waking up before a dream’s plot has reached an intuited climax.

Our current experience of the world has become saturated, not just with stimuli, but with the critical analysis of seemingly each individual stimulus. Every overwhelming idea, artifact, or event seems to not only warrant, but to demand an overwhelming perfusion of dissection, debate, derision, and twitter threads.

Perhaps it’s because ज़ितम सिहँ eludes all such modes of scrutiny that it is one of the best and most refreshing things to emerge from 2017’s yawning maw of festering fuckery. ज़ितम सिहँ offers an interval of surrender, not to despair, but to the inscrutably gorgeous. His debut is nothing short of fantastic and while I’m no licensed therapist, really, for your own mental wellbeing, stop thinking and do not sleep on Jitwam’s scintillating waking dream.

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