It might be glib to suggest that anyone apart from government sponsored purveyors of dodgy PPE had a good pandemic but Ajay Saggar definitely used the time productively. Between January 2021 and June 2022, he spent most days at his Soundation Studios recording and mixing music aided by a top team of collaborators, the result of which are two Bhajan Bhoy albums released separately on the same day, ‘To Love is to Love (Vol. 1)’ and ‘To Love is to Love (Vol.2)’. The time-spent and resulting attention to detail create two albums that make for spectacular and disorienting head-trips. As with the best music that is primarily instrumental, it functions as a soundtrack to the imagination.

‘Vol 1’ begins with ‘The Guiding Light’ which starts with devotional singing, tabla and sitar before dub echo ushers in the album’s most immediately accessible song with vocals, My Bloody Valentine and shoegaze elements, elevated by some crazy free jazz influenced drum patterns to create an excellent sonic soup. The album delves further into imaginative headspaces with ‘On a Higher Plain’, rich with repeated guitar chords and the crackle of the outdoors while ‘Raga Shanti’ is a sitar and drone piece which journeys from soothing to disturbing as its details evolve. In its enveloping textures, it is one of the album’s highlights. ‘Oh Seeker’ uses layered voices “at the edge of the world”, manipulated guitar and symphonic elements to create a particularly psychedelic effect.

The first volume concludes with ‘Lovely Day for Cricket’, a feast of radio snippets, huge dub echo of the track’s title and increasingly woozy effects plus recordings of members of Saggar’s Amsterdam-based cricket team introducing their backgrounds from India, Afghanistan, Trinidad, Pakistan, Guyana, Canada and Liverpool, a celebration of the wide-ranging diaspora the game brings together. It is the most far out entry into the annals of music that references cricket, a small oeuvre that takes in Lord Beginner’s calypso ‘Cricket Lovely Cricket’, Roy Harper’s ‘When An Old Cricketer Leaves His Crease’, 10CC’s ‘Dreadlock Holiday’ (not their finest moment) and the entire recorded works of The Duckworth Lewis Method.

‘Vol.2’ maintains the flow with another raga-esque excursion, ‘Hari Om Sharan’ and dreamy, echoey vocal sounds. ‘Abshaku…The Ecstatic Truth (For Werner Herzog)’ begins with original kosmische era synths before taking an elemental turn in keeping with Herzog’s films conjuring up dark forests and incipient unease. ‘Accordi-Ohm’ adds a freak folk feel and unnerving atmospherics to a tremendous title and is visceral in its impact. ‘Eliane’s Conch’ builds from sombre synth wash and echo, together with percussion that could be beating a path through the undergrowth.

‘To Love is to Love’ make for a pair of albums that are as pleasing as a succession of graceful cover drives and as beguiling as a spell of mystery spin (for non-cricket aficionados, I can confirm that these are very good things). Both records are a worthwhile addition to any record collection but while ‘Vol 2’ is highly immersive, ‘Vol 1’ showcases a greater spectrum of sounds and emotions.

Bhajan Bhoy: To Love is to Love (Vol. 1 & 2) – Out 10th March 2023 (Cardinal Fuzz)

I was editor of the long-running fanzine, Plane Truth, and have subsequently written for a number of publications. While the zine was known for championing the most angular independent sounds, performing in recent years with a community samba percussion band helped to broaden my tastes so that in 2021 I am far more likely to be celebrating an eclectic mix of sounds and enthusing about Made Kuti, Anthony Joseph, Little Simz and the Soul Jazz Cuban compilations as well as Pom Poko and Richard Dawson.