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#ReviewRundown: January 2022

Our verdict on the latest releases from The Siege and Vedang, Keshav Iyengar, Venkat Raman and others

Anurag Tagat Jan 31, 2022
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Venkat Raman – Fleeting Fancy

★★★½

Kolkata-based artist Venkat Raman proves to the world that you can never go too wrong with funk, disco and groove music. His debut EP Fleeting Fancy opens with the bright and indefatigable “Trail Runner,” powered by a roaring horn section and an unstoppable rhythm section. Raman’s guitar stays snappy, but it’s the bass work that (appropriately) provides a lifeline to songs like “Headrush.” The guitars get all tangled up in the beats, which makes it near psychedelic, allowing Raman to launch into a euphoric solo. It’s, however, not all party-starting on Fleeting Fancy. The smooth “October” showcases a mellower side while still keeping with the happy vibes. Raman digs into grooves even more earnestly, the title track allowing him to bow out regally.

NAJA – Moonlight EP

★★★

Cincinnati-based, Indian-origin producer and rapper NAJA has previously proved just how experimental and obscure he can get when it comes to beats and cadences. But with his debut EP Moonlight, something else is afoot. Toying with this MIDI controller, Moonlight is kind of like a beat tape except it’s an antithesis. Sure, there are skittering beats that inform songs like “Monsoon (Movement)” and “RGB (CMYK)” but “Young Love (A Beautiful Kill)” sets in a reverie-like tone. At other points across the nine-track, 22-minute record, there’s cinematic hip-hop (like “Prowlin’ (Yeti)” and “The Cliffs (You & I)” are ripe for NAJA’s hazy rap flow. Vocals might be the missing piece, but an instrumental EP like Moonlight continues to build the artist’s mystique-heavy approach.

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The Siege, Vedang – Salim EP

★★★★

For the first time ever, beatsmith Vedang Deshpande sits in the executive producer chair for acerbic hip-hop artist The Siege’s new EP Salim. Released in December, the EP is inspired by the story of Salim, the supporting character in Slumdog Millionaire. Mirroring the story of unbelonging and class divide in India, The Siege sets the tone with the incendiary “Started Off Poor,” featuring a Pune rapper with the same name. The song is anchored in Vedang’s arresting production and there’s buoyant basslines powering “Deeware,” a politically charged takedown of privilege juxtaposed with singer-songwriters Ananya Sharma and Mr. Todu’s cheery vocals. In his now-perfected angst, The Siege unravels and fires off about the determination of his protagonist in “Salim,” capping off a power-packed EP.

Vanillax – False Confidence

★★★

Hip-hop artist VanillaX aka Shlok Mishra uses his debut EP False Confidence to air his inner monologue. With themes of self-growth and feelings like empathy, there’s an earnestness in his rap that’s best heard on songs like “Oscillate” and the title track. There are spoken word portions that preface some of the songs, whose timing and cadence are hit or miss. “Introspection” sounds a bit too hurried for the rapper, but sharing mic duties with rapper Gxndhrva saves the track. He ends the EP with epiphanies aplenty on “Bymyself,” which shows that authenticity and vulnerability shines on in False Confidence.

Keshav Iyengar – Seeing Faces

★★★½

On his second solo album Seeing Faces, bassist and composer Keshav Iyengar is joined by guitarist Lokesh Bakshi and vocalist-pianist Jeson Filipe for plenty of philosophizing (“Pavlov’s Web”) and avuncular advice alike. Although the sound is predominantly comprised of lazy-day, soothing alt-rock and folksy arrangements, the life lessons imparted through narrative lyrics (“Mamu and Friends,” “Peacocks,” “Drift Along”) are thoughtful and adorned in metaphors. The sincerity flows through every second of the album, heightened by occasional appearances like Hindustani vocalist Nagesh Adgaonkar on the title track and lyrical gems delivered jovially by Filipe (“Insanity is elusive when you’ve lost your mind” on “Life Turns Around”). There’s sagely advice on Seeing Faces—likely stemming from personal experience— but none of it is preachy or unnecessary, and that’s the best part of Iyengar’s songwriting. 

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