with Hear Hums, Dark Sea of Awareness, Alien House
8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 30
Music can be more than just music. This romanticized idea goes a long way in explaining why we care about art in the first place, and it’s been crystallized in thousands of idioms and reflections. Still, Taraka Larson’s framing of the concept makes it sound thrillingly new. As she explains, the goal of making music with Prince Rama, the New York City-based band she shares with her sister Nimai, is to build a temporary sonic Utopia in listeners’ minds.
“I’m interested in Utopia because it’s this kind of paradox: It’s in this world but not of this world,” the vocalist and keyboardist says. “Transcendentalism is tied to the idea of a more perfect world outside of this world, but utopianism is all about accessing this other paradoxically ideal world within this mundane environment.”
Music provides a crucial link to this plane, transporting people away from dull terra firma to a far-off place ruled by imagination. In this case, Utopia can be wherever or whatever you want it to be as long as it’s divorced from the space you’re actually consuming music in. “It’s all about that harmonic alignment with your inner and outer environments,” Larson says. “It’s different for everyone.”
Her music history hasn’t always involved advocating this highbrow yet intelligible concept. While living outside of Gainesville, Fla., she and her sister once had a high school band that played Blink-182-style pop-punk. During those years, they lived on a Hare Krishna farm, and the music they heard there nudged them toward what they create today. Eventually, the sisters and Michael Collins (who is no longer part of the group) formed their current band, lifting their name from Prince Ramachandra, an incarnation of fundamental Hindu deity Vishnu.
Prince Rama’s work, which is primarily composed of synths and drums, takes its key cues from South Asian devotional music, Bollywood soundtracks and German dark wave. Calling their sound “exotic” effectively conveys its strange, intoxicating quality, and it’s unlike anything else prominently hovering around the NYC indie-rock scene. But it’s also more than a curious novelty. Trust Now, their latest record, contains only six tracks, but with all of its layers of chanting, instrumentation and reverb, there’s a substantial amount of material to wade through.
Much like their albums, Prince Rama’s shows are immersive affairs. The Larsons deck themselves out in glitter and shiny clothing, while images are projected onto hefty screens behind them. Other details – onstage dancers, trust-fall exercises, noisemakers – come and go.
While Prince Rama have loaded their aesthetic with rich, enthusiastic details, they’ve received some pointed criticisms based on who exactly is making this music. Larson is candid about and well aware of the complaints.
“A big misconception is that we’re these dumb, white hipster girls from Brooklyn who are totally imperializing Indian culture or just stealing from other cultures without really knowing what we’re doing – [just] trying to mesh the sounds together to create something cool,” Larson says. “I’m not interested in that at all. Personally, it’s coming from a much deeper place than just cultural borrowing.”
Evidence of this commitment comes from how sincerely Larson discusses Trust Now’s opener. After her grandmother died, Larson implored her to communicate with her from another plane. The resulting track, “Rest in Peace,” with lyrics filled with incomprehensible gibberish that the singer says are a vocal manifestation of spiritual energy, was inspired by that communication. The premise of the whole scenario is outlandish, but Larson speaks about her experiences with an earnestness that makes that bond seem real. If these guys are somehow faking this persona for record sales, it’s one hell of a hoax.
That sense of earnestness comes up again when Larson elaborates on Utopia. Prince Rama haven’t created the right sound for Utopia-creating purpose, she says, but they’re getting there. “That’s the whole drive of art: to do it until it’s perfect so you don’t have to do any more work.”