Written by Travis Shosa
Indie pop: for all its charms and implied lack of limitations, it often presents as one of the most homogenized genres of modern music. It shouldn’t: indie doesn’t mean anything as a musical descriptor. Yet there seems to be this unconscious cultural agreement on how indie pop should sound. Few loosen their shackles: and fewer still free themselves entirely. Devi Majeske, who began recording solo in her bedroom as Air Devi in 2018, is less restrained than most.
Her debut EP chicken nuggies & rosé (later edited, re-recorded, re-arranged, and re-released as swanning about) showed she had no qualms pairing songs of sweet and gentle French pop (“Flâneuse”) with aughts garage rock-inspired jams about how landlords are fucking assholes (“Landlord”). Since then, Majeske has expanded Air Devi to a full band, enlisting the aid of multi-instrumentalists Jacob Hershman, Jay Fein, and Seth Fein. The band’s new EP, Rooting for you, is not as often outwardly quirky and is considerably less French. But what supplants these qualities–more ambitious song structures and an embrace of Majeske’s Indian heritage–make the trade-off worth it.
Rooting for you is at its best when it’s challenging perceived limitations. Opener and lead single “Ashrita,” named for Pinkshift vocalist Ashrita Kumar, possesses a refreshing specificity as Majeske namedrops musicians from who she draws motivation: Abi Natesh from Kulfi Girls and legendary playback singers Lata Mangeshkar and Noor Jehan. The kinship she feels with fellow Indian women who persevered through their struggles in music is what gives her the strength to avoid dejection when she faces her own. And while it is guitar-forward pop for most of its run, it features a beautiful sitar solo. Majeske had studied the instrument while visiting her grandparents in India and its use is most prominent on “Ashrita.” This willingness to connect with her roots–in addition to other cultures–and allow them to inform her songwriting is a sign of near-limitless growth potential.
“Dharti” might be the band’s crowning achievement to date. The nearly five-minute track owes much of its glory to its Hindi chorus, with Majeske’s Khayal vocals interplaying with guest musician Siddharth Ashokkumar’s violin. “अब मत, अब मत जाओ / दुख आ रहा है, लेकिन / जहां भी, जहां भी तुम जाओ / मुझे आशा है कि फूल खिलेंगे,” she sings, translating to “Don’t go now, don’t go now / It’s sad, but / Wherever, wherever you go / I hope the flowers bloom.” Alone, this would be striking, but her fluctuating runs extend to the English verses: tempered, but there all the same. It demonstrates a desire and capability to not simply smash Western and Eastern passages together but unify them into something distinct.
The other three songs are closer to what you’d expect from an indie band that’s not quite as willing to push the envelope. The clean-toned guitar noodles and soaring trumpets on “Rooting for you,” the 80s synths that undercut the Cake-like “Fatal Flaw,” the forlorn acoustic strums of the heartfelt ballad “It’s Over”: each is appreciable but would likely shine brighter if placed on a lengthier project where “Ashrita” and “Dharti” didn’t feel like such teases for what could be.
Rooting for you’s primary issue is that it’s too short. It’s one of the better problems to have: leaving your listeners wanting more rather than less. It’s difficult to speculate where Air Devi goes from here: Rooting for you doesn’t play like the expected follow-up to swanning about, but an album that expands upon the elements of Indian and French music found on each could be a revelation. Or maybe we get an EP with some Spanish songs next. As it stands, Rooting for you serves as a reminder that indie pop doesn’t have to adhere to any one sound, language, or songwriting approach. It is, in theory, limitless. It may listen like an appetizer, but it succeeds with aplomb.
Travis Shosa is the founder and editor-in-chief of Stamens/Pistils/Parties. Formerly the runner of COUNTERZINE, he has bylines at Pitchfork, The Alternative, and Post-Trash among others.