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#ReviewRundown: April 2022

Check out our take on the latest from Shen B, Anirudh Varma Collective, Shashaa Tirupati, Gurbax and more

Anurag Tagat May 04, 2022
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Shen B – Kaafi EP


Jammu-bred hip-hop artist Shen B doesn’t let things slide, not in his lifetime anyway. There’s wisdom but there’s also openhearted raps on his latest EP Kaafi. On the intro “Khud Me,” he talks about self-acceptance, while the title track builds upon snarling Hindi, Urdu and English wordplay. The sing-song quality of Shen’s hooks dominate but the production can draw listeners in as well – like with the quick-paced beats on “Yaqeen.” He dissuades listeners from substance abuse (“Taaron Ke Neeche”) and spins a shiny, hypnotic beat on “Jazbaat.” The spoken-word outro is a refreshing addition that we don’t often hear on Indian hip-hop records. Shen walks the talk on Kaafi EP – breaking the door down instead of knocking politely.

Shashaa – I’m Sorry, Heart EP


Singer-songwriter Shashaa Tirupati is upfront about the fact that her debut EP I’m Sorry Heart is centered around an imaginative relationship. There’s still a lot that is relatable (“Pretend”), intimate (“In My Skin”) and cathartic about the five-track collection of songs. Released in a piecemeal fashion, the full picture of Shashaa’s collaboration with guitarist-producer Keba Jeremiah is as unconventional as one would expect from a singer otherwise known for leading film songs. Shashaa’s hushed vocals and acoustic arrangements make for new sonic territory and somewhat unsettling melodies, best heard on “Medieval Minds.” Minimal yet revealing, there’s a lot Shashaa can do with less. And for everything else, there’s always her film songs.

Aditya – Grha EP


At the intersection of architecture, Indian classical music, post-metal and science fiction (purportedly) lies composer Aditya Bhatt’s new EP Grha. The ambient record comprises three tracks – “Sankalp (Resolution)”, “Smaran (Remembrance)” and “Samarthan (Resolution)” – and journeys from a roving, seemingly abstract gathering of layers to something much more intense. Where “Sankalp” might set the mood as lightheaded with its subtle guitar plucking, “Smaran” is starrier even if a bit wonky and disjointed. At the end of it, Bhatt does take a few sharp turns on “Samarthan,” with darker sounds leaping out urgently, a cavernous kind of drone which makes the trip that is Grha that much more wondrous.

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Gurbax – Rebirth


Long known as a dubstep, trap and bass-music producer, Kunaal Gurbaxani aka Gurbax breaks out and strides confidently with his debut hip-hop album Rebirth. He’s adept at fusion, no doubt, which comes through on “Mere Warga,” a trap-meets-Punjabi folk-fusion track that opens the eight-track album. There’s plenty of morphing given the room an electronic-music producer like Gurbax can command. With Los Angeles-based Dayce (producer Devesh Dayal, who’s also part of prog band Skyharbor) on board, there’s a chirpy, summery pop sound on “Runnin’ Away.” Buoyant trap and hip-hop drive Gurbax’s new sound further – “They Like” adds grandiosity to the Atlanta trap style while “Yaariyan,” with singer Rashmeet Kaur and Amsterdam-based producer GANZ, is gleeful and “Stay Lit” is one for the dancefloors. But then there’s a bass banger to keep the faithful fans hooked, as heard on “Namaha” with producer NDS. It confuses the flow just a tad bit but Gurbax is well on his way to global acclaim.

Ojonav Hazarika – Roots of Terracotta/Assam


Guwahati guitarist and composer Ojonav Hazarika blurs the boundaries between the African style of guitar playing championed by Ali Farka Toure and Assamese string instruments on his instrumental album, Roots of Terracotta/Assam. Described as a “folk crossover guitar instrumental” collection of songs, there’s something pastoral (“Heavy Happy Heart,” “Axomia Melting Pot”) and meditative (“Into the Soul”) as well as energetically jumpy (“Floodplain Blues”) heard across seven tracks. Jazz permeates on “Mayong’s Spell,” and “A Parting Wish” wraps itself around the ear for a pleasing, escapist listening experience. It might be mood music or calming music for some, but Hazarika’s Roots of Terracotta/Assam is also an important addition to the state’s folk music lore.

Also See  Premiere: Shashaa Tirupati Teams Up with Keba Jeremiah for Passionate Pop Single ‘In My Skin’

Eashwar Subramanian – Songs from Ether


Keeping his promise as a prolific ambient music producer, Eashwar Subramanian launches upwards into calming atmospheric arrangements on his appropriately titled new album Songs from Ether. In nine tracks that span about 40 minutes, Subramanian leads listeners down different directions, whether it’s nostalgia (“Remembrance”) or a seemingly Rahman-esque score (“Lost Mermaids”). “Blues on a Rainy Day” isn’t actually bluesy but it makes a calm point, while strings dominate “Melodic Dreams.” For the most part, Subramanian leans towards capturing moments in time (“Sombre Tuesdays,” “Sands of Time”) and has modern electronic flourishes to leverage. “In Love With Silence” strikes emotional chords with its weepy violin, making Songs from Ether another immersive listen from Subramanian.

The Anirudh Varma Collective – Homecoming


A resplendent gathering of artists from around the country makes composer Anirudh Varma and his collective’s album Homecoming a formidable affair. Showcasing India’s traditional songs across the spectrum, there’s something for everyone in Varma’s sonic storytelling. Carnatic guitarist Abhay Nayampally adds memorable hues on “Stories of Kalyan” and “Vasanthi,” while Varma’s piano and keyboard work lead “Bhimpalasi.” The ornate voices of Pavithra Chari, Rohith Jayaraman (“Jaijaiwanti”), Amira Gill (“Bihag”), Prateek Narsimha (the jazz-informed “Baajo Re”) and Kavya Singh, among others, make Homecoming a super-finessed record. Although the songs average well above the five-minute mark, none are laborious listens. “Chayanat” glimmers, while “Megh” brings in ace guitarist-composer Shubh Saran and saxophonist Abhay Sharma, along with Narsimha and singer-songwriter Sapatak Chatterjee. The closing title track goes right into grandiose fusion territory, making Varma and his troupe among the best hopes for the future of fusion music in India. 

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