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Manish Kalvakota with Charles Douglas - Outer Limits

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Artist: Manish Kalvakota with Charles Douglas

Album: Outer Limits

Label: Voltage Recordings

Review date: Jun. 3, 2003


It may be called Outer Limits, but the latest in a short series of ventures from songwriter Manish Kalvakota and increasingly present collaborator Charles Douglas seems very content staying between the innermost bounds of the folk-pop category. For the first handful of songs, this is all well and good, but by the time the last few roll around with no perceptible progression, Limits simply sounds tired.

Superficially, the packaging and design is quite nice, while the album title and Kalvakota's name lend the whole affair a kind of enticingly exotic vibe. But nothing goes much further than its appearance; the booklet photos dispel any hope, however unenlightened, that Kalvakota or Douglas will be dignified sages with flowing white beards and squirrels on their shoulders, or really anything more than just two guys, one of whom happens to be Indian. Aside from the occasional tabla and sitar, which stand out even less often above the fray of everything else, there is no validity to the assumption that India has anything to do with this album. Which means that Outer Limits has nothing but its content to fall back on, and that only goes so far.

Thanks to Douglas's consistent production throughout, the record at least holds together, but the variety of instruments he plays to accompany Kalvakota's breathy vocals and smoky guitars soon fails to keep the songs from becoming stale. The first two, "Diamond Mine" and "Smokescreen," set the hazy and sun-drenched mood somewhere between post-electric ’60s folk and pre-standardization ’80s R.E.M., the latter trotting out some admirable pith ("I've got nothing better to do / Than be a smokescreen for you"). But after the confounding dystopia "2020" (not quite as bleak as Zager and Evans' 2525, but still an unrealistic fate for the next seventeen years, what with humans growing on vines and all), Limits loses its novelty and fails to bring out any new guns. Douglas livens a few moments with some keyboards and formidable percussion, but Kalvakota's vocals tend to stagnate and his lyrics falter (see "I say, brother, brother / I don't know you anymore / We don't fight like we used to / And that's good").

Taken individually, any of these songs (the longest of which is still way under four minutes) probably wouldn't be as grating as they are in the midst of their like-minded companions. There's charm in the breezy Roky Erickson cover "Save Me," but after ten songs of the same ilk, it just sounds lackluster. The unlisted finale, a minute-long instrumental with a sudden burst of energy (and a finally-highlighted sitar), simultaneously shows the sort of creativity that would have made for an interesting album and puts the other songs to shame. Pleasant at best, cloyingly repetitive at worst, and unobtrusive throughout, Outer Limits is good for a song here and there, but as a whole it quickly runs out of moves.

By Daniel Levin Becker

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