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The Unseen Guest

The Unseen Guest make music that is difficult to pin down. Wedding traditional Indian instruments with Western song-writing and guitar, and covering it with rich vocal harmonies, they apply this basic idea to songs that come from every end of the spectrum - sounding sometimes like a mix of American folk blues and Carnatic music, sometimes like a Parisian taking on Nick Drake, at others like Buena Vista by way of Mumbai. They manage to incorporate Western music with traditional Indian instruments in a way that makes it genuinely new, avoiding patchouli-scented cliché or Bollywood bombast.

The Unseen Guest came about when, Declan met Amith while he was travelling through South India in 2002 with a $5 balsa-wood guitar. The two became friends and met again in Mumbai where Amith was based, where they spent several weeks jamming, busking and singing to anyone who’d listen.

Later in the year, while Declan was still on the road, Amith sent him an email, suggesting recording an album mixing Indian music with Western. Declan, busy working at the bottom rung of the Australian job ladder, was only too happy to accept. The following year they met up again in Amith’s hometown of Calicut in Kerala, assembled a rotating cast of local musicians, and set to work on recording their debut album.

The result was ‘Out There', a self-produced album that belies the freewheeling spirit it was made in, with a soul that shows its international origins, and a natural sound that doesn’t sugar-coat the excellent live playing of its participants. With a percussive throb that is provided by Indian musicians playing everything from tablas, dholaks and mridangam, to mandolins, harmonium, veena, and carnatic violin, topped with the intricate guitars of Declan and Amith, the album melds left-field Western music with Indian in a way that has never been done before.

Their 2nd album Checkpoint, like their first album, beautifully weaves two influences into a seamless whole. The instrumentation combines bluesy melodies (check out the harmonica work of Curtis King on Miracle Mile) with elements from pop, folk, rock and free jazz. At times world weary, at times full of joy, Checkpoint is a traveller’s diary, full of witnessed dualities and memories recorded on the spur of the moment. Not the clichés of East and West, but the stuff of novels and good movies: wanderlust versus security, love versus cynicism, the wildness of Saturday night and the regrets of Sunday morning.

Checkpoint is an apt title for the Unseen Guest’s second album. With it, Declan and Amith acknowledge the successful musical territory of their first album - but they keep moving forward. A solid collection of eleven songs, Checkpoint combines the best of two (or more) worlds. The Unseen Guest have produced yet another beautiful dusty snapshot of life on the road, one you can sing and dance to!