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10 Best Indian Albums of 2021

From life stories through the lens of a pandemic to unsparing metal, Indian artists covered a lot of ground when it came to themes

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10. Mocaine – The Birth of Billy Munro

New Delhi rock artist Mocaine aka Amrit Mohan delivers a punchy and in-your-face 11-track debut album titled The Birth of Billy Munro. The record includes feisty guitars, pulsating drums, riffs galore, booming basslines, Mocaine’s steely vocals as well as sketches. The concept LP follows the story of one Billy Munro who is found wandering across the southern states of the U.S. as he deals with the death of his wife. — D.B.

9. Lifafa – Superpower 2020

It’s not very often you’re going to hear an artist say “Special thanks to the BJP for the great song titles.” But that’s just what producer-singer Lifafa aka Suryakant Sawhney did for Superpower 2020, which presumably arrived late but not too late. Punning on the ‘India Shining’ campaigns and the lofty dreams of development and global standing that the country’s lawmakers often promise, Lifafa addresses a jarring present. “Tere desh mein to/Pyaar gunah hai,” (In your country/love is a crime) he sings in his distinctly breezy cadence on “Wahin Ka Wahin,” possibly one of the most spirited protest songs addressing the politically awakened youth of the country. Lifafa still has that warbled, misty and endearing element to his production but he stretches his limits as well, like on “Acche Din” and “Bewafa Hai Ghadi.” Then of course, there’s club-friendly cuts like “Mann Ki Baat,” a rehash of “Irradon” featuring D80 and the creepily saccharine “Laash.” All in all, Lifafa burdens himself with the emotions of the country and survives just because of his sonic pastiche and lyrical wit.  — A.T.

8. Mali – Caution to the Wind

Chennai-bred singer-songwriter Maalavika Manoj aka Mali‘s debut full-length eight-track album titled Caution to the Wind is her homage to synth-pop. There’s a variety of soundscapes all through the album that are unveiled track by track. As for the songwriting and lyricism, Mali is at her artistic best capturing moments of serenity, happiness and melancholia perfectly. Lyrically, the musician sings about longing, struggle and nostalgia while also including moments of dark intensity and uplifting saccharinity. — D.B.

7. Arogya – Genesis

Gangtok band Arogya land at that intersection of arena-ready friendly and blazing rock and metal. Their third album Genesis digs into a sound not many have perfected in India or even other parts of the world, which is why drawing comparisons to a European or American counterpart can do little justice to the aggro, roller-coaster songwriting of Arogya. Roomy drums, synths right out of the Eighties and guitar parts which invoke nu-metal as well as alt-rock brightness and urgency, songs like “Broken,” “Lonely Night Descends” have something for everyone, even someone who’s just getting introduced to heavy music. The band dominates on songs like “Dark World” and “Misery’s Lair,” mirroring brutal growls as well as anthem-like sing-alongs. The modern rock and metal canon just got a worthy chapter written by an Indian band. — A.T.

6. Godless – States of Chaos

With their grip of their boot firmly on the neck of every listener, Hyderabad/Bengaluru thrash-death metal band Godless’ debut full-length album States of Chaos totally lives up to their reputation as one of the most incisive heavy acts in the country. Although two prior EPs have often felt apt for Godless’ madcap songs in terms of length and succinctness, Godless swat away any concerns of not being able to sustain on an LP. Shrieking guitar work, pulverizing blast beats and the most harrowed growls populate songs like “Malevolent,” “Visions” and “Netherworld.” Elsewhere, “Cormorant” scales the pace but for the most part, States of Chaos rolls at a monstrous pace, decimating everything in its way. — A.T.

5. Second Sight – Coral

Mumbai singer-songwriter duo Second Sight — consisting of musicians Anusha Ramasubramoney and Pushkar Srivatsal — have delivered a fantastic 10-track debut album entitled Coral. What makes Coral such a fantastic listen is the attention to detail that Second Sight has put into it. Each note, snare hit, bassline and vocal arrangement is carefully crafted to create an immersive sonic experience. Ramasubramoney and Srivatsal’s give and take singing elevates each song as they harmonize beautifully over slick and dynamic instrumentation. There’s plenty to enjoy on Coral; you’ve got jazz, R&B, hip-hop, soul and blues, making it a comprehensive and permissive body of work. — D.B.

4. Tejas – Outlast

On his sophomore seven-track full-length album Outlast, Mumbai-based singer-songwriter Tejas dives deep into indulgent production and exposes his pop sensibilities extremely well. However, the bones of the album is his songwriting. As the tracks cover themes of innocence and maturity, mental health, loss of youth and everlasting hope, the sonic canvas he’s been able to paint is built on pure emotion and forward-thinking. Even though Outlast is seeped in pop music, there’s plenty of elements from rock, country, R&B, electronica and more that when mixed together well, create that quintessential Tejas sound. — D.B.

3. Shreyas Iyengar – Tough Times

When Pune-based multi-instrumentalist Shreyas Iyengar released his debut full-length album Tough Times in February, the worst had happened — the dread and strife around the coronavirus pandemic had returned to haunt India with a second wave. With news cycles constantly warning of a third wave now, it feels like Iyengar inadvertently made an album that’ll stay longer with us in terms of evoking worry. But where there is worry, the dexterous jazz record provides succor. While Iyengar helms most instruments you hear across eight tracks, Jayant Sankrityayana’s upright bass playing adds sublime fluidity and emotion to songs like “Quarrel Times” and “Drum Solo.” The stark somberness of “Death March,” the modern hip-hop flourishes of “Never Leaving Home Again” and the steadfast jazz brilliance of the two-part title track instill chaos but also resilience, the kind of message we’ll keep returning to so as long as this pandemic rages. — A.T.

2. Prabh Deep – Tabia

You know you’ve really gone down the rabbit hole when you start reading about how Prabh Deep’s second full-length album Tabia actually reflects Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Fan theories abound as the New Delhi artist remains characteristically reluctant to indulge in too many theories about the themes of his magnum opus. At 15 tracks and 55 minutes, Prabh Deep journeys towards peace and acceptance, even after seeing the flashier side of life (“Paapi,” “Qafir,” “Preet”). As he stares down demons (the regal, acoustic guitar-aided “Gyani”) and takes stock of life (“Sthir”), synth lines flow copiously. Any listener would be enraptured at the focus and determination presented on Tabia, making it a record for healing. As much as rappers and hip-hop artists can try to be introspective and vulnerable, Prabh’s storytelling arc makes this an album which will remain unmatched for years to come. – A.T.

1. Blackstratblues – Hindsight Is 2020

Mumbai/Auckland guitarist Warren Mendonsa treated us to his sixth Blackstratblues album this year with the 16-track Hindsight Is 2020. The new LP includes little vignettes and calming shorter pieces of music (“Remembrance,” “Kinder Days Past I,” “The Persistence Of Time” and “Kinder Days Past II”), and meatier tracks such as the optimistic “This Will Be My Year” and “The Celestial Dance” which opens with a dark feel and progresses into a groovy and bright mood. There’s even an indie-rock offering “Hold On Tight (Up We Go)” on the record. There aren’t enough superlatives to express how versatile and dexterous Mendonsa’s playing is across the album. From his wails, arrangements, solos, chord progressions, tones and dynamic changes, there’s so much he offers being the one-of-a-kind and genius musician that he is. — D.B.

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