The Enigma of Maharadja Sweets

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An outsider creating pained, psychedelic ballads amongst a shroud of mystery.

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Alec Petty | July 10, 2012

Tripped out cover

Who is Maharadja Sweets?

From what we've gathered, he is a New Yorker by the name of Richard Exelbert. Exelbert comes from a type of musicians that seem nearly extinct now: the outsider. The internet has linked so many visionaries and songwriters together with the proper equipment and press that finding the next Daniel Johnston may be a lot harder than you think. Now more than ever, artists chose to keep their identities a mystery. As this continues, it feels like the personal mystique becomes less interesting or important and just another fad. Sure, there are 'outsider' artists like Willis Earl Beal, but his vocal talents showcase what has the potential to be a crossover-indie darling. That's why Maharadja Sweets is so fascinating. On the excellent Orange Milk Records, Maharadja Sweets offers a tape of mysterious honesty; purely experimental, forward thinking, disturbing and beautiful.
Exelbert supposedly frequents open mic nights around NYC, putting on a variety of different types of shows: from his somber and exciting singer-songwriter side, to his noise freak outs, to accordion dabbling ballads, Exelbert is a true pop outsider. His website looks as though it was made specifically for the release of Engines of Joy, his tape for Orange Milk, consisting of only a bland orange template and tour dates. What's even more alienating is his YouTube page, which has various performances, songs from his other band, and his performances and band's songs played on TOP of each other. Its haunted, ghostly and purely strange.
On Engines of Joy, listeners examine him strictly playing guitar, vocals, and the occasional use of drums. The first song, “Cold Fusion”, is the loudest the album ever gets, sounding like a drill tearing your nervous system to shreds. Hearing “Guitar Krumping” is a complete 180, as Maharadja Sweets jams on what sounds like a broken guitar, plucking manic and snaking chords. This barely prepares listeners for “Railroading,” a pained ballad where Exelbert lists a train line. The song feels like history, regret, despair, and nostalgia. The next track, “John Henry,” retells the story of folklore John Henry, who dies trying to out-chop a machine. His guitar sounds equal parts Henry and machine, something natural and totally unfamiliar.
By “Engines of Joy”, his playing begins to sound less like a guitar and more like some kosmische synth workout. “Prisoner of War” feels like a soul on display, as Exelbert describes himself a “prisoner of war” and “hostage.” “Hobbes to Calvin,” may be the centerpiece of the release: Maharadja Sweets' playing is heart-wrenching, as he humbly croons above puttering drums, singing lyrics about the natural earth. As the album continues, songs become more psychedelic, tripped out, and exploratory. “Picasso and the Circus” and “This Machine Clears Sinuses” feel like fourth-dimensional trips beyond the realm of this world, leaving you with an altered state of reality. Maharadja Sweets feels particularly interested in winter, with songs “Winter,” and “Bring Back the Snow” examining the feelings of isolation and the cold. These lyrical and themes are in sync with the project as a whole, as Engines of Joy feels like the wonder of winter as well as the torment, loneliness and dread of the season.
Richard Exelbert's Maharadja Sweets project seems especially fascinating in this day in age because his enigmatic personality is out of place with the fast paced one of the internet. Even though Exelbert's presence (or lack thereof) is reeling, its his music that confirms his importance, showcasing a raw, personal and mystical vision.
Engines of Joy is out now in an edition of 100 on Orange Milk Records. You can stream and download it below.

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