Indie Music Reviews: April 2020

Across The River (Eashwar Subramanian)

Subramanian has a way with sounds. His new album is a musical exercise in serenity. It is calmness made alive through every note, but is blooming with variety and wonder. It soothes the listener, while stimulating them at every turn. 

This perfect harmony of contradictions is Subramanian’s signature. His convergence of sounds end up creating a happy place, a half hour interlude from everyday cacophony. Much like his earlier work Polar Drift, the album coaxes the listener into the present moment. A liturgy of dulcet rhythms invites the listener to do nothing but listen. Cease the mind chatter and dive into the shimmering braid of ambient soundplay. 

The album leans into experimental impulses, with Indian and Western classical components planted in sinuous layers of lush synth. The Tibetan bell and the Middle Eastern duduk become perfectly at home with low electronic hums. There is plenty to explore, and to return to in multiple replays. Restraint and spontaneity work together in unexpected harmony to offer quiet respite in a world suffocated with complication. 

Kho Jaun (Vicky & Tejas)

When was the last time you listened to some good, uncomplicated music? If it’s been a while, then Vicky & Tejas are your boys. 

Their album has 5 songs. Each song can be defined in a single word: charm. The duo are unutterably charming, almost verging on adorable. They sing about the most familiar thing in the world: old love. But they do so with simple, easily lovable lyrics that play around in equally simple and lovable chords. It’s easy to imagine them as popular college seniors, strumming guitars and singing these gentle melodies while being surrounded by adoring juniors and friends since first year. 

The music is disarming. It hits close to home, singing of things that everyone feels. It’s about losing love, remembering lost love and beckoning for love to brighten one’s life. It’s that familiarity that makes the songs worthy of replay. They ask the listener to do nothing but listen and perhaps crack a nostalgic smile. 

In Kho Jaun, sentiment trumps skill. The music is well-done, but it’s nothing to write home about. However, combined with the lyrics, they are ripe for evoking personal memory. Since almost everyone has a story of having loved and lost, almost everyone will find their stories echoed on this album. That is more than enough to get us through these dismal days. 

Bored as Fuck (Hanita Bhambri)

Hanita’s 2019 EP was lauded for all the right reasons. She brought forth music that played with exciting new possibilities. Her vocal perambulations never ceased to delight her listeners, and neither did the lush, almost cinematic elaborations of melody. 

Bored as Fuck does none of the above. It pares down the richness of sound, choosing to favour a more unassuming, intimate sound. The narrative slows down, gut-wrenching words seasoned with gentle synths. It matches the mindset of someone “bored as fuck” which, as song reveals, is code for depression, repressed anger and numb despair. The song signals Hanita’s rediscovery of the self; a dive into her personal darkness. 

Hanita wrote the song after being burned by a toxic, self-sabotaging friendship. She describes her plight that those of broken hearts will recognize too well: “I pour myself/in a cup for all/They drink all night/And they go on/They go on.” 

The track feels especially relevant in these times of forced isolation. To be trapped inside without nothing but our thoughts seems is now a vexing reality for the world. Amidst such strife, one should not be surprised to find their own soul echoed when Hanita sings “Thoughts flood my head/I’m in a black hole/Anger aches my bones/I want a safe house”. 

Izhaar (Alchemy)

Another day, another Hindi rock band. This one, calling themselves Alchemy and hailing from the glistening lanes of Mumbai also deem their music as Hindi experimental rock. 

Does the label do them justice? Well, they are certainly not playing anything you haven’t heard before. But they offer clean riffs, earworm-inducing choruses and lyrics exploring everything from past heartbreak, new romance and even some social relevance. It’s a mixed bag, and done with more than adequate expertise. 

Alchemy started as a college band. Guitarist Yash Rajput, guitarist-vocalist Aniruddha Deshpande, bassist Nilesh Dalwani and drummer Ankit Gangwani met in college, and created a band that went on to do fairly well as college-level band competition. 

Their debut album certainly retains the open-handed charm of college-day naivete. Izhaar, for example, is a song of unashamed adoration for a nameless beloved. Gunaah is a somewhat amateurish and over-the-top visualising of violently unfulfilled love. Tum Aao is more adult in it’s longing. It voices that wordless yearning humans universally feel for the as-of-yet-unmet soulmate. Chodo Bhi Yeh has the simplest message: let go and be happy because being miserable never helped anyone. Manzil, though a bit preachy, still waxes eloquent about what it takes to live a good, morally upheld life. 

Fundamentally, it’s a good album. Whether it works well for individual listeners will depend on whether they find their experiences echoed in the sound. The soundscape is classic rock, though they do temper it with gentler alt-rock sensibilities. The music is thoughtfully made, and deserves to be given it’s due listen.

Aamad (Sameer Rahat)

The words in Aamad are carefully chosen. Every syllable is picked out of it’s bower, examined with the eye of a professional appraiser and set in place as rubies in a tsarina’s crown. 

Sameer Rahat hails from a family of poems. Needless to say, he knows the power of a well-placed word. His debut album is a demonstration of that power, done quietly, without fuss. Each song is framed by the gentlest melodies, ones that trigger grief, craving and the numb pain for a loss that occurred in the distant past.

The album opens with a spoken word piece Jo bhi hain. It is a conversation with the self, an assertion that one is enough even when life offers them close to nothing. Every subsequent track burrows in the deepest and yet most commonly felt facets of the human experience – solitude, loneliness, solace, hope, despair, fury, acceptance and the like. Khat is less about an actual letter( though, there is one, written to him by an ex), and more about the messages Rahat wishes to leave in the midst of emotional turbulence. 

All the songs go this way, dwelling in an unassuming balance of profundity and peace. While Tasalli goes deep within the artist and brings forth demons and revelations, it never becomes angry or bitter. Perhaps it is by virtue of his lifelong love of poetry and music, but Rahat seems to exude an honest confidence. He does not gloss over failure or anguish; infact, he brings them into light through the lens of good art. To quote hRahat himself, “We’ve always been where we want to be, just that we don’t realise it.”

The album is made in tandem with incredible musicians, Mir Kashif Iqbal of Parvaaz among them. It’s a collaboration destined by whichever gods bless the arts, and the result is a gift to us all.