On Nov. 16, Young the Giant released its fifth studio album and biggest project yet: American Bollywood. The album is split into four acts led by frontman Sameer Gadhia, who takes us through an epic conglomerate of universal human truths guided by Indian mythology. American Bollywood is all Gadhia: this album is forged with his essence.
The album is an “Indian epic,” as Gadhia attempts to bridge South Asian culture with Western music in the project. The self-titled first track of the album describes a boy torn between Bombay at 13 and American dreams at 24. The energy picks up a minute into the song as it shifts into the chorus, guiding the listener through an exciting portal into the world of the album.
The world of the album begins with the Mahabharata, one of Ancient India’s major Sanskrit epics. Ghadia dives into Indian mythology in the second track “Wake Up,” in which Vyasa, the traditional author of the Mahabharata, tells the singer, “You were here before in a different body,” and Gadhia tells himself to wake up to life.
It seems that Gadhia has used this album to confront his own mortality. He asks, “Is the safety on?” about the gun that may or may not kill him in “Guardian Angel.” The sound is rolling, like a man floating up to the sky to meet his destiny, and the beat picks up again halfway through the song as if Gadhia has decided he is okay with being mortal. He has come to terms with being a human being, a struggle that colors the entire album.
The theme of unrequited love arises in “My Way” with the introduction of a new character. Gadhia experiments with lyrical sparsity and sonic softness in “Insomnia,” and weaves in a sitar to achieve a fuller instrumental sound. “Tonight,” a lovely song of heartache that climbs into feeling, watches emotional and instrumental softness continue; the lyrics are more wistful than angry as the singer asks, “Where have you been tonight?”
The singer continues his descent into loneliness in “The Walk Home,” when he combines images of childhood and death with the line, “Can somebody walk me home? / To pearly gates” over impressively sharp guitar. He feels intensely and speaks in sweeping human experiences that run the risk of being cliche, but are ultimately emotionally effective when layered over a confident rock track.
Young the Giant has always been adept at weaving themes of identity into a palatable rock album. Their third album Home of the Strange (2016) similarly deals with the ideas of home and country, and their fourth album Superposition (2018) follows the band’s epic style as it ruminates on a theme: the self framed by a relationship’s decline. The home and the self come together for American Bollywood, and elements of the band’s earlier albums come through with a taste of self-reflection and tragic love.
The album culminates in its epicness in “Dancing in the Rain” with sweeping sound and lyrics: “Now I know why / Everyone’s dancing like they’ve never seen the rain / Everyone’s howling like a wild hurricane.” Despite the album’s dealing with identity struggles and heartbreak, Young the Giant achieves a feel-good sound as usual. Even the more melancholic songs feel like Gadhia had fun while recording them — emotionally exhausting, but still thoroughly fun.
Gadhia has done a phenomenal job bringing Indian mythology into the modern rock sphere. Not only are his lyrics cleverly written and wrought with complex references, but his sound is also expertly crafted as usual. Although each song feels polished, Gadhia could have afforded to be more experimental in the production of his album. The sounds are expected once you get used to his songs’ usual pattern: slow and muted, then upbeat and electric.
American Bollywood finishes on Gadhia’s overwhelming feeling that “We are just one / same folk.” The final track, “Same Folk,” takes on an element of story-telling with a folk guitar sound and leaves the album with a musing on large-scale phenomenon: “Cosmic worlds, true love and war / It’s all the same.” Gadhia is able to capture something universally human within the small slice of overlap between a rock album, an Indian epic and one man’s personal experience. The band has always found success in its commitment to the theme, and American Bollywood is no exception.
Kiki Plowe is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].