Summer special: The season’s hottest indie albums
From lo-fi ambient hip-hop to genre-bending guitar music, here are our top picks for the most exciting indie releases of the summer
The thermometer is in the 40s, mangoes are back on the menu and afternoon excursions come with the risk of heatstroke. Yes, it’s summertime. The season when India’s musicians enjoy a little well-earned R&R after long months on the road, retreating to a cottage in the mountains or to their air-conditioned studios to write and record the music that will set the soundtrack for the second half of the year. We spoke to artists, record label and industry insiders to put together a list of some of the most exciting and interesting indie releases this summer. Here are the five albums that should be on your playlist for the next couple of months of weekend excursions to the hills, or afternoons spent daydreaming about these in office.
Ever since Divine and Naezy caught our attention with their 2016 breakout hit Mere Gully Mein, the Indian rap scene has been dominated by acts rapping in Hindi and other Indian languages, offering their own takes on the gritty, street-slang-laced style that has come to be known as “gully rap”. In this scenario, the smooth jazz and funk influenced instrumentals and English rhymes of 22-year-old Mumbaikar Tanmay Saxena aka Tienas come as a breath of fresh air.
Heavily indebted to Eminem and Kendrick Lamar, Saxena’s introspective tunes expertly navigate the line between the personal and the political, crafting complex narratives that touch on subjects as diverse as depression, consumerism and a parasitic entertainment industry that feeds on small-town dreams. Given that he was born with a speech impediment, Saxena’s skills on the mic are even more impressive, and on his debut mixtape Unavailable—out on 1 June via Delhi-based Azadi Records—he expands his repertoire to include hard-hitting club bangers and even a couple of tracks with Drake-esque choruses. With a full-length album due later this year, Saxena is all set to take Indian hip hop by storm.
Salty Prawns—Chirps And Burps
It takes a unique sensibility to wed the shimmering haze of lo-fi ambient with Gulzar’s distinct, refined voice, without the whole thing collapsing into a gimmicky mishmash. But that’s exactly what Salty Prawns—the pseudonym adopted by 21-year-old Mumbai native Pranav Gohil—achieves on Squishing Moments, a sprawling, narcotizing meditation on longing and nostalgia. Gohil started producing music at the age of 16, when the EDM wave was at its peak.
But it’s the underground soul of Mr. Carmack and the SoundCloud lo-fi instrumental hip hop scene that provide the foundation for his experiments with sound. Chirps And Burps, his debut track, out on Boxout.fm Recordings on 28 May, is a breezy 30-minute exploration of sound’s ability to stretch, compress and otherwise manipulate time and space. Recommended for lazy summer afternoons, long mountain drives and late-night excursions into your inner psyche.
That Boy Roby—Four Pair Of Jeans
Chandigarh is famous for a lot of things—Le Corbusier’s architecture, the rock garden, Kapil Dev—but its indie scene isn’t one of them. That might be about to change though, if the debut release by Chandigarh rock band That Boy Roby is anything to go by. Out in July, Four Pair Of Jeans sees guitarist Sangram Malik, bassist Ishan Sharma and drummer Paarth Koser take some of the most popular and recognizable guitar music tropes—alt rock riffs, long jazz-fusion solos, acoustic folk-country twang—and infuse them with new life.
The hills and mountains of Himachal loom large over the record, whether in the title of the mournful blues-rock ballad Lost In Shimla or in the Malana-cream referencing monologue that opens groove rock cut T. If you like well- crafted rock music with just a touch of experimentation, then this is a record for you.
While Mumbai rap dominates the headlines and the attention of Bollywood, there’s a slow-burn revolution brewing on the streets of Delhi. The Punjabi rapper Prabh Deep’s debut album Class-Sikh was one of the highlights of 2017. Last month, he teamed up with fellow Azadi Records alumnus Seedhe Maut to drop Classikh Maut Vol. II, an unrelenting, in-your-face sonic assault that is the most exciting Indian rap release of 2018 yet.
Now, Delhi rap veteran Yash Chandra aka Yungsta has teamed up with Pune rapper Akshay Rawat aka Frappe Ash to form the bilingual rap group Full Power, who will be releasing their debut EP Showtime on Elemental Records next month. The eight tracks on the EP sit firmly in trap music territory, system-blower bass and minor key melodies providing a sinister backdrop to virtuosic displays of tongue-twisting lyrical dexterity. If you needed any more evidence that hip hop is the future, this is it.
I first saw Shree Walinjkar play at a small, intimate gig in Mumbai in 2017. Armed with just a guitar, pedals and an electronic bow, he managed to get a group of drunk gig goers to sit on the floor and listen in rapt silence. If you’ve ever been to a gig in the city, you know how impressive an achievement that is. The Mumbai-based college student started off playing guitars in a series of bands before a chance encounter with the cerebral music of Aphex Twin sparked an interest in ambient sounds.
Last year, he released his debut EP Vending Machine, which was inspired by “vending machines, soda cans and candy”. Now he’s gearing up for the release of his sophomore EP Umi, which will feature slowly-unfurling soundscapes of ambient sound intermixed with judiciously deployed field recordings. Brian Eno once called ambient music “as ignorable as it is interesting”. Walinjkar’s music belies that description, its minimalist, tonal sounds gently grabbing hold of your attention via the subconscious.