10 Best Indian Albums of 2019
This year brought hotly anticipated hip-hop, faith-restoring indie tunes and evocative rock that ensured the relevance of full-length records
Peter Cat Recording Co. – Bismillah
In 2019, New Delhi’s Peter Cat Recording Co. weren’t just about gypsy, jazz, psychedelic rock and waltz like their previous releases. Much more rooted in jazz with hints of electronic (“Where The Money Flows”), Bismillah presented a celebration sound in many ways (“Floated By,” “Memory Box”). Tropical vibes permeate on “Soulless Friends,” while there’s lush nostalgic rock on “Heera,” which tells us there’s deliberation but also acceptance of the way things are (“I’m This”). There’s a burst of brass on “Remain In Me” and a cinematic end with “Shit I’m Dreaming,” showing us yet another warped chapter in the history of Peter Cat. — A.T.
Parekh & Singh – Science City
In pondering the bigger picture, Kolkata-bred dream pop duo Parekh & Singh deliver yet another winner. By no means is Ocean easy to follow up, but Science City was readied years ago and then released in chronology via U.K. label Peacefrog. There’s a sense of affection and wonderment on songs like “Monkey,” “Hello” and “Be Something,” but vocalist, guitarist and producer Nischay Parekh perhaps grasps on to the most heartfelt epiphanies on songs like “Summer Skin” (“Time’s a waste of life,” he sings) and the duo space out on “Forward Slash” and “One Hundred Shadows” while introducing serious grooves on “Crystalline.” — A.T.
The Koniac Net – They Finally Herd Us
Mumbai rockers The Koniac Net comprising vocalist-guitarist David Abraham, guitarists Jason D’Souza and Aaron Dmello, bassist Adil Kurwa, vocalist Mallika Barot and drummer Karun Kannampilly have crafted a remarkably resounding album with the 11-track They Finally Herd Us. The record brings forth catchy melodies (“Crawling,” “Here We’ll Be”), gritty guitars (“All Hail Backslider,” “Cobra Avalanche,” “In Vein”) and killer drum fills on “Alison.” For any Nineties rock lover, They Finally Herd Us encapsulates the sound of that era extraordinarily well, juxtaposed with modern pop motifs (and sci-fi lyrical allusions) and clever arrangements even as we move into the 2020s. If some say that rock is dead, then They Finally Herd Us is a resurrection. – D.B.
Shubhangi Joshi Collective – Babelfish
On their debut eight-track album Babelfish, Mumbai indie-pop outfit Shubhangi Joshi Collective packs a stellar bunch of songs together that flow seamlessly. The band’s record – featuring vocalist-guitarist Shubhangi Joshi, bassist Titus Pinto, keyboardist Nishant Nair and drummer Aamir Ismail – opens with “Last Ticket Journey” which includes a pacing drum pattern and embellished keyboard parts. The band charms with “Curious Cat” and presents funk-groove on “Surfing With The Times.” Joshi puts forward cheeky lyrics like “Spare me your last minute, crying.” The acoustic pop tune “Why Stay Away” is a slow yet flowing song that pulls you in one note at a time while “Help Me Remember” is a bossa nova jazz-inspired number. The album also features Joshi’s 2017 single “Foolish,” the flavorful “Cynic On The List” and the relaxing record closer and live staple “Ode To The Moon.” – D.B.
Blackstratblues – When It’s Time
One could argue that Mumbai instrumental rock group Blackstratblues’ fifth album, the eight-track When It’s Time, is nothing short of a stellar piece of art. The group’s talisman Warren Mendonsa shines on almost every track with his larger-than-life guitar solos and intricate chord progressions. Drummer Jai Row Kavi is at his thumping best when he is beating the daylights out of his kit on “Black Hole X3” with solid drum parts and dynamic fills. Bassist Adi Mistry’s ability to play to the mood and hold just the right groove sits perfectly with the rest of the band as keyboardist Beven Fonseca lays a canvas for Mendonsa to go berserk on. – D.B.
Lifafa – Jaago
In a fashion that recalls ghazals and even bhajans, Suryakant Sawhney sits with a harmonium and a mic to make a melancholic proclamation that’s turned many club venues and festival grounds upside down this past year. It goes: “Doob raha hai desh yahaan (this land is drowning.)” In his sedate, jaded voice through the course of eight kaleidoscopic dance tracks, Lifafa hits just the right nerves about 21st century existence. Over otherworldly layers of synth and also house patterns, the singer-producer oscillates between youthfulness (“Chaku Chidiya”,) love (“Nikamma,” “Din Raat”) and disillusionment (“MJRH”). — A.T.
Divine – Kohinoor
The drop of Divine’s debut LP was something of a landmark event in the Indian hip-hop scene with the anticipation building over months, spanning the launch of his own label and entertainment conglomerate Gully Gang Entertainment, a semi-autobiographical film (Gully Boy), a documentary (Gully Life – The Story of Divine) and more. And it was well worth the wait. The eight-track LP is scorching in its veracity and Divine’s lyricism is uncompromising on the groove of razorline beats that flirt with electronica, R&B, even elements of jazz and more with bold horn variations mixed in. There’s a compelling commercial tinge to the sonic palette of the album that is offset by the raw force and honesty of Divine’s bars and the rapper doesn’t hold back, going all out to tell his story on the high-octane LP. The album opener “Kohinoor,” “Wallah,” “Vibe Hai,” “Chal Bombay” and the closer “Too Hype” especially stand out. Joined by fellow Gully Gang rappers Aavrutti, Shah RuLe and D’Evil, American rappers Nas and Dave East, Indo-American singer-songwriter Sid Sriram and Bangladeshi-American DJ/Producer Sanjoy, Divine truly gets his squad out to deliver. — J.X.
Arivu x OfRO – Therukural
After being the sharp-tongued rapper of Tamil group The Casteless Collective in 2018, rapper Arivu and producer OfRO arguably became the voice of South Indian hip-hop with Therukural. Within seven tracks, Arivu is acerbic in his takedown of two-facedness (“Kalla Mouni,”) but also squares up with so-called nationalists on “Anti Indian” to a beat that can set clubs aflame. He’s almost holding back tears in his voice for India’s daughters (“Snowlin”) but remembers the power of irony (“Ok Sir,” “Middle Class”). There’s club bangers and then there’s the heartfelt EDM turn with “Thamizhachi,” in which he and OfRO encourage women to be as fearless and badass as possible in their pursuits. — A.T.
Taba Chake – Bombay Dreams
Arunachalese singer-songwriter Taba Chake’s folk/rock LP Bombay Dreams is a record that’s not hard to listen to. Chake’s guitaring is experimentative, mercurial and intuitive as he flits from serene folk pop/rock ballads (“In Waadiyon Mein,” “Meri Dastaan”) to Nyishi folk songs with electric bridges (“Hugulo”) and punk-rock declarations (“Keeping Me From Sleep Tonight.”) He mingles the airy with the edgy, taking to the ukelele on the vulnerable “My Other Side,” introducing ambient drops and delving into the romantic and adventurous on “Walk With Me” and “Aao Chalein,” crooning and rocking in his husky voice. Bombay Dreams is an album that is authentic, raw and intrepid, letting you into a space that feels like home with Chake employing Hindi, English and his native Nyishi to take you there. — J.X.
Winit Tikoo – Tamasha
Kashmiri musician Winit Tikoo’s long-awaited debut nine-track album Tamasha includes all of the artist’s influences from rock, grunge, Hindustani classical music and more. There’s plenty for everyone on this record from soaring guitar solos on the powerful “Zindagi” and the bluesy “Ajnabi.” Tikoo channels melodic rock on “GDS” and shakes things up with ghazals on “Faiz.” The album comes together beautifully midway through the rousing “Pagal,” punctuated by a guitar solo that flows straight into a delightfully arranged section by sarangi player Shahrukhh Khan. The record simmers down with the melancholic “Chanab” before we hear the aggression on the title track which is a total headbanger. – D.B.