10 Best Indian Singles of 2019
Protest, subversion and experimentation reigned strong this year
Three Oscillators (feat. Karshni) – “Drowning”
Mumbai electronica artists Three Oscillators and Pune/Mumbai singer-songwriter Karshni’s “Drowning” was the early summer track we did not see coming. Accentuated by warping and granular glitches that flow with the synth-bed of the song, going with the current, melodically disrupting but not fighting against it, “Drowning” is meditative and an absolutely experimentative winner. Earlier this year, the artists told Rolling Stone India that the song was about vulnerability and navigating one’s way out of a horrible place, and both the lyrics and production lend a palpable buoyancy to the desolation. Karshni’s balmy vocals trickle seamlessly into the Three Oscillators stream of fluid samples, and “Drowning” emerges — tranquil, organic and clean. — J.X.
Swadesi ft Prakash Bhoir – “The Warli Revolt”
If Indian hip-hop truly came of age and became fully authentic in 2019, a lot of credit goes to Mumbai’s multilingual, socially conscious crew Swadesi. MC Mawali, 100 RBH, Tod Fod – along with Warli tribal chieftain and Adivasi activist Prakash Bhoir – raise their fist on “The Warli Revolt.” To the sample of a Maharashtrian horn section that ushers in the song, Swadesi announce a revolution to fight not just for forests, but for human rights. The rappers take turns in condemning corruption and false promises, while highlighting the importance of roots and the strength of those very bonds. – A.T.
Prabh Deep – “Maya”
A track that featured as one of our Editor’s Pick of the month earlier this year is New Delhi rapper Prabh Deep’s “Maya.” Many months on (and a few new singles later), we still can’t get enough of it. The mellow and emotive song leans almost towards experimental jazz meets hip-hop, showcasing Prabh’s skills in the producer’s chair. The addition of bassist Harshit Misra aka Hashbass and keyboardist Archit Anand on the song along with Prabh Deep’s heavy delivery makes for a fine listen. – D.B.
Thermal and a Quarter – “Leaders of Men”
Bengaluru’s rock veterans Thermal And A Quarter’s second single “Leaders of Men” off their upcoming album A World Gone Mad is a well-packaged blues offering that you can listen to on loop. Vocalist-guitarist Bruce Lee Mani’s coolly takes down politicians and leaders in powerful positions not just in our country but across the globe. Sonically, the song gives you everything you want from a blues number; a booming bass line, a groove that hits all the right spots and a spellbinding guitar solo. – D.B.
Dopeadelicz – “Aai Shapath Saheb Me Navtho”
When the beat kicks in for Mumbai rap crew Dopeadelicz’s track “Aai Shapath Saheb Me Navtho” you immediately think of Nineties gangsta rap, much like how you’d think about rapper Stony Psyko’s Snoop Dogg-inspired look. On this tell-all song, Stony Psyko spills the beans of being caught by the Mumbai police and getting through to them with his dope rhymes. While Stony Psyko spits bars about his real name, his religion and address, the track is led by a smooth beat underlined with slick treble piano notes. – D.B.
Aarlon – “Vidroh”
With the right dashes of Linkin Park, Architects and Bring Me The Horizon, Hindi metal band Aarlon perfect a verbose, emotive sound on their single “Vidroh.” Addressing the need to break away from India’s heavy-handed middle class expectations, Aarlon eschew all the tired and worn-out tropes and dig deeper into metaphors and their lyrical arsenal. The battering rhythm matches up just as well, providing a precisive modern metal-edged riffs from Piyush Rana and Ritwik Shivam over vocalist Pritam Goswami Adhikary’s unhinged growls. – A.T.
Arogya – “Dark World”
Gangtok rockers Arogya’s sublime track “Dark World” was their first English language track after years of finding a base in the Nepali rock circuit. Singer Rainjong Lepcha’s vocal prowess shines throughout the song as he goes from high octane notes to chilling screams that resonate with the pumping riffs and grooves across the shimmering synth-rock offering. The hooky chorus when Lepcha sings “You turned my world/Dark and bare” might just channel your inner goth to join in and belt out with the band. – D.B.
Mood Station – “Rawn Sapatal Rawh”
Mizo rock/metal band Mood Station come across as a revelation of sorts for anyone following heavy music, possibly signaling that the North East has a sort of self-sufficient circuit at times. On the lead single off their self-titled album, which went out on streaming platforms midway through this year, Mood Station show us the power of just one riff that’s overdriven to frenzied levels. Mixing electronic elements with stretchy synth work and intricate drum fills, it doesn’t matter a single bit that you may not understand the lyrics, because “Rawn Sapatal Rawh” is a maniacal, arena-rock sized stomper. – A.T.
Ahmer x Sez On The Beat – “ELAAN” (feat. Prabh Deep)
24-year-old breakout Kashmiri rapper Ahmer Javed aka Ahmer delivered one of the most hard-hitting debuts of the year. The fiery, confrontational and resolute LP Little Kid, Big Dreams (produced by Sez On The Beat) fused dissent with a dark soundscape to scream resistance. Set to an old school beat looped around a detuned guitar line, Ahmer belts in Koshur, Hindi and Urdu on “Elaan,” speaking out on his experience of the militarization of Kashmir, the identity of its people and the complicity of Indian politics, citizens and the media. Joined by New Delhi rapper Prabh Deep, the two addressed the country through their lenses on “Elaan,” delivering a jolting call of awareness to the masses with intuitive production by Sez. — J.X.
MC Altaf – “Code Mumbai 17” (feat. DRJ Sohail)
Mumbai rapper MC Altaf’s old school hip-hop track “Code Mumbai 17” is a dynamite ode to his neighborhood of Dharavi (pincode 400017). Altaf really came through with impeccable lyrical delivery, his bars hitting the nail with every line. Belting, “Na tu gangster/ Teri soch hi napak hai/ Main hoon kal ka sach/ Kyunki kaanon mein Wu-Tang hai (You’re no gangster/ Your ideology is flawed/ I’m tomorrow’s truth/ My ears are hooked on [the] Wu-Tang [Clan],)” the rapper spoke of his origins and neighborhood pride. Mumbai DJ/Producer DRJ Sohail mirrored the style of Nineties hip-hop footed with a glitchy groove, giving Altaf a beat to drop some really incendiary verses that confront the stereotypes the residents of Dharavi face. The 20-year-old may have audiences fooled with his swagger but through his Hindi/Urdu free-flow on “Code Mumbai 17,” MC Altaf proved just how powerful and disruptive experiential artistry can be. — J.X.