#ReviewRundown: May 2020
Our verdict on the latest releases from Girish and the Chronicles, Aishan Vali, Mradul Singhal and more
Girish and the Chronicles – Rock the Highway
Eighties metal never went out of style in India, for better or worse. In the case of Gangtok/Sikkim band Girish and the Chronicles, it’s definitely for the best. On their latest album Rock the Highway, they’re at their soaring, searing and buoyant best across 13 songs that clock in at just over an hour. If you’re looking for that glam/hair metal sound in all its bombast and sometimes mindlessness, Rock the Highway is a spirit-lifter. There’s arena-ready tunes like “Rock ‘n’ Roll Is Here To Stay,” frontman Girish Pradhan croons like no man in India (and a bit like Axl Rose) on “The Distance Between,” while “The Sikkimese Dream” is a bright sing-along. Thankfully, there’s a lot more they run through very ably – like Judas Priest worship on the incendiary “Bad Shepherd” while guitarist Suraz Sun descends into guitar solo hell on “Wounded.” All in all, classic, no-nonsense metal that’ll get the fists pumping from the get-go.
Mradul Singhal – Beyond : Life
Death metal, slam and prog-fusion were amongst Pune guitarist and bassist Mradul Singhal’s playground, with bands such as KillKount, Schwa and Dead Exaltation. The 24-year-old passed away unexpectedly in a road accident in March, but he left behind solo material that he’d been planning to release. Beyond : Life is six tracks of a rather different side to Singhal, anchored by Brazilian bassist-producer Samuel Chacon’s fluid work. The foundation of all tracks remain slow flowing, comforting guitar arrangements, one that’s certainly meditative and best heard in one go. Songs like “Leaves of Life” and “Symphony of Stars” are nearly hypnotic, while “Sentience” shines with a bright lead and “Labyrinth” ramps up the fretplay.
Aseem – Ilaaj
Based out of Pune, singer-composer Aseem brings intrigue and foot-tapping melodies inspired by the likes of John Mayer as well as Finneas and a bit of the late Mac Miller on his debut EP Ilaaj. With help from lyricists as well as Boston-based composer Karan Pandav, there’s drum machine foundations for the lo-fi hip-hop vibe of the sprawling opener “Aasmaan” and the somewhat memorable “Ilaaj,” but the slow unfolding of “Pukaar” is what makes for a radiant listen. The beginning of “Bhool Jaun” sounds play-it-safe but soon enough, Aseem stacks up the layers for an instant electro-pop earworm, featuring a righteous rap verse from Rocky Gorkhali.
Priya Darshini – Periphery
Mumbai-bred, New York-based artist Priya Darshini takes a Bjork-sized leap into minimalist, vocal-led experimental music on her album Periphery. In addition to soothing introspections (“Home”), there’s a few spoken word excursions as well (“Space River”) but also stirring Indian classical-informed arrangements on songs like “Cocoon.” Periphery is a laborious listen in some senses, considering it’s 56 minutes, but the artist’s goal is perhaps to create each song to be an enveloping experience. Pop/R&B intonations flow with Indian classical vocal styles enchantingly on “The Banyan Tree.” The distinguishing part of “Des” is that it leads with the raag Desh, but doesn’t offer much else that’s different from what we’ve heard before. The pacey “Sanware Sanware,” however, lands right in the sweet spot of fusion that sounds like a mesmerizing live performance, with help from percussionist Chuck Palmer. Hammered dulcimer artist Max Z.T. and cellist Dave Eggar lead the closing track “Absent” poignantly.
Sahiel – Main Hoon Rockstar
Nagpur-bred artist Sahiel Verma has had a pretty familiar dalliance with rock music – he was an electrical engineer and quit his job in 2018 to pursue music full-time and now has his debut album – the ambitiously titled Main Hoon Rockstar – out in April. Inspired by Bollywood movie Rockstar and its soundtrack (composed by A.R. Rahman), Sahiel’s interest turned from choreography to music, and Main Hoon Rockstar is rife with clichés but it’s still surprisingly refreshing when it comes to offering good Hindi rock. It sticks close to the rock ballad format (“Sun Saale,” “Main Hoon Rockstar”) and infuses more cinematic production elements well (“Dil Chilla De,” the dark “Musafir Tu Kaabil”) but Sahiel may need to breach a few more boundaries to truly stand out.
Aishan Vali – The Eternal Song & Dance of the Nomad Heart
A seasoned voice in the Hyderabad independent music space, Aishan Vali has previously laid down rap verses for artists like No Hero as well as 2013 Telugu film Race. Teaming up with fellow Hyderabad producer Yung.Raj (prolific in his own right), The Eternal Song & Dance of the Nomad Heart is a sublime bop. Vali’s vocals seem intentionally low on “Breath to Breath” to ease the listener into his mindspace, but he’s louder and emphatic on “Chains,” which bubbles with funky sub-bass. Vali brings his A-game to glimmering lo-fi hip-hop arrangements on “Joyride: Passenger,” a nighttime jaunt through the city. Vali is clearly more old-school at heart when it comes to vocal delivery, so there’s total clarity on “End and Begin,” followed by the classical guitar-aided title track, in which Vali strengthens his resolve.