If you’re looking for a diverse underground, you needn’t search any further than Canada’s vast collection of indie scenes, the best of which are producing incredible new content like the latest album from Toronto Tabla Ensemble, Unexpected Guests. As its title would imply – and the video for its namesake cut will outright show you – Unexpected Guests has the composition of an ensemble piece, and its collaborative nature will definitely not be lost on even the most novice of critical ears. This record was made for a discriminating listener, and despite its experimental qualities it’s surprisingly accessible through nothing more than its unfiltered humanity.
The music video for the title track in Unexpected Guests is a color-saturated wonder that immediately jumps out of the screen and into our hearts on the strength of the song’s incredible beat. There are so many different components to this video, and yet you can’t accuse Toronto Tabla Ensemble of getting overly cinematic with the image scheme they’re using here. We’re wowed by the synchronized dancing of players young and old, but the most engaging element of this piece may well be its awesome soundtrack, which immediately struck me as being one of the most personal excerpts from the album in general.
I would have liked just a little more emphasis on the melodic components in “What’s Going On” and “Monkey Tale” than we were ultimately afforded, but at the same time I suppose I can appreciate what Toronto Tabla Ensemble was probably trying to achieve in taking a more minimalistic path instead. There’s so much understated color in both of these songs, and where “Maryem’s Here” and the title cut exploit this attribute a bit better, I wouldn’t have shifted the arrangement of the material here at all – the overall fluidity of this LP is a slam dunk.
“Dream Symposium,” “Raghupati” and “Toronto Tabla Youth Ensemble,” as much as they intrigue me in this setting, were made for live performances before a large crowd of people. I can imagine that they would be even more thrilling if presented to us in an intimate club or a packed concert hall just the same, and while I love what they tease in Unexpected Guests, they’re undoubtedly a small sampling of what this group can do when they’re in the limitless venue that is a live performance. I’d love to find out for myself, and with increased demand for this record, I’ll have my wish soon.
If this is on par with what Toronto Tabla Ensemble are planning on producing over the next chapter of the long and storied existence of the project, I’ll absolutely be tuning in for more in the future. Unexpected Guests is a rollercoaster of emotion and raw passion, and though it’s not the only indie release that I would recommend to you out of the Canadian underground in 2020, it’s definitely among the smarter records of its kind in the North American marketplace right now. In short, this is a brilliantly original and warm effort no matter which way you slice it.