#ReviewRundown: February 2020
Our verdict on this past month’s releases, including Sandeep Chowta’s collaboration as Chalk & Cheeze, singer-songwriter Saby, Mumbai hip-hop crew Swadesi and more
Chalk & Cheeze – Chalk & Cheeze
★ ★ ★½
House music producer and DJ Nitish Chachra teams up with one of India’s most underrated and sometimes reclusive music composer Sandeep Chowta for a record called Chalk & Cheeze. Chowta may be best known to the world for his work in Bollywood soundtracks, but on this record, he lets us in on his love for disco, house and more. The result is dancefloor-ready music that clearly has soul at its center. Named after days of the week, “Mangalvaar” is easygoing and leads with a piano/synth melody and modern pop vocals, while “Budhvaar” packs in disco energy and “Shukravaar” samples the sarangi, creating a well-rounded dance music offering.
Saby Singh – Yahaan
Chandigarh-based singer-songwriter Saby Singh has been slowly building up to his debut album Yahaan for a few years now. In his well-woven style that marries gentle, pastoral guitar melodies with openhearted lyrics about mental health issues and identity, there are a few parallels to Bhopal acoustic artist Samar Mehdi (who even features on the splendid collab “Pehchaan”), but Singh uses the silence to increase the strength of his inner monologues. “Maana Ke (Gumaan)” deliberates, while songs like “Tawaqu’aat” bring out raw emotion. Singh’s previously released single “Asma” offers a glimpse into a lovelorn crooner, but “Yahaan” is the clincher for its longing and a powerful plea for love.
Insignia – Various Tendencies
On “Lemon,” the opening track off Mumbai alt rock band’s debut album Various Tendencies, vocalist Harikesh Shekhar declares, “I should be crowned the king of agony” in his rage-meets-melancholy mood that screams grunge. It works well on “Lemon,” but the 10 tracks contain a sense of familiarity that might be unbearable unless you’re a hardcore fan of bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam. Songs like “Another Try” and “Never Drop By” don’t offer more than nostalgia, but the steely riff-fest that’s “Fallout” and angsty, Foo Fighters-esque “Right Here With You” pick up the slack well. We get that it’s intentionally grunge, but a few modern elements could add a freshness to Insignia’s sound.
4 Left Feet – Keep Your Feet Moving
★ ★ ★½
Releasing their debut album in two parts, Bengaluru dance/funk act 4 Left Feet properly get into the groove of things across seven tracks. “Shine” brings forward psychedelic guitar leads, while “B.O.Y.B.O.M.” borrows from hip-hop and soul elements and “335E” is a bluesy day-in-the-life song. There’s pacey Red Hot Chili Peppers-informed funk on “Into the Wild” that’s injected with a decent dose of hard rock, but the Indian folk rhythm bearing “Raja” is amongst the more refreshing things that 4 Left Feet get up to. “Someone Special” piles on the blues dexterously but “Human Emoshun” nearly runs the risk of being formulaic. A formidable step in the right direction, nevertheless.
Swadesi – Chetavni
After a few years of planting their flag and causing a bit of seismic activity in India’s rap circuit, Mumbai hip-hop crew Swadesi introduce their own universe with Chetavni. With an eye on the murky and despondent, Swadesi team up with Naar for the chilling opener “Jung,” while the live staple “Sau Takka Sach” matches up to the unshakeable energy put forth by MC Mawali and 100RBH. DJ-producer BamBoy brings in old-school hip-hop vibes on the sublime “Sthiti” and there’s an ironic party vibe for “Galliyan Bhool Bhulaiya” (also produced by Naar) and Marathi folk influences on the somewhat anthemic “Aatank.” The mood changes once again with the smoky neo-soul touch added on “Dikhati Sapne Sadke.” But the lighter elements are likely added just to provide breathing space to what are socio-politically conscious takedowns of all kinds of injustices, be it in Bengali, Marathi or Hindi, especially on the one-two punch that’s “Bhoy” and “Khabardaar,” followed by the hard-hitting Delhi Sultanate collab “Kranti Havi.”