Kerala-based producer and songwriter Pina Colada Blues had a noteworthy set of singles under his belt, particularly his recent vibey hit Iravukal/Nights that featured vocalist XACHIN and rapper GWS. And now, within a span of a few weeks Kevin Shaji, the man behind the name Pina Colada Blues, is back with a highly promising debut album that signals the arrival of bedroom producers within new-wave Malayalam music.
Titled Once Upon A Blue Moon, the album bears hints of R&B, and tropical house. Conceptually, the songs play around a tried-and-tested formula i.e. the start of a relationship, the eventual heartbreak, and its aftermath. As the lead character in Shaji’s storyline suffers from a low point in his love life, he confronts dark emotions but eventually comes out of this slump with new rays of hope. However, with fresh lyrics and soundscapes, he succeeds at not making Once Upon A Blue Moon just another generic heartbreak record.
The album opens with an introspective track called Mazhayil that’s driven by mellow keys to delve into the protagonist’s head who seems to recall a relationship he once had. The title roughly translates to ‘In The Rain’, an attempt to create a picture of celebrating a merry rain shower with a loved one.
This melancholia is then followed by One-Side Kadhal, a head-bobbing work of Tamil R&B. Pina Colada Blues’ first experiment with Tamil is an easy success, bolstered by Mk Musiq’s smooth vocals and Sai Zakas’ fiery verses. The essence of One-Side Kadhal is rooted at the beginning of a relationship when the romance seems to stem out of a one-sided emotion. The protagonist fancies a certain someone but he’s also frustrated at how hopeless it feels when the partner doesn’t seem to reciprocate the emotion.
What’s amusing is the end of the track.
A spell of silence marks the end of the verses until a folk beat starts playing out of nowhere. It might sound merry for a layperson but as the producer elaborated, ‘This is for the listener to interpret. It could mean the girl accepted his love and it was a dance beat of happiness or it could be a rejection and the final folk beat could be seen as a beat for the death dance ritual people do in Tamil Nadu ( similar to saying our brother has fallen after the rejection’.
While One-Side Kadhal is bound to be a fan favorite, there are many other melodious offerings from the album. This ranges from the Western electro-pop-inspired Omal Poove (documenting the happy phases of the relationship) to the chillwave-infused R&B record Ee Vazhiye (that sounds comforting but dwells on the loss of a lover). As mentioned before, Once Upon A Blue Moon ends on a more hopeful note as in the closing chapter Pularikal, the Carnatic lo-fi track finds the lover coming to terms with his own flaws and karma from the past while looking at a new morning with a new hope.
There’s a lot to take away from the album in its entirety and would require multiple listening sessions to get the entire crux of it. Rather than following a formulaic tone, Pina Coloda Blues experiments with his sound in every track. And of course, due credit goes to his star-studded ensemble bearing the likes of singers like Nikita Uday and Aromal Chekaver, lyricist Abhiram Jithendra, and instrumentalists like the unnamed saxophonist on Pularikal and guitarist Durwin D’Souza.
Verdict: Once Upon A Blue Moon is an ambitious, multi-genre saga of love and loss.