With promising debuts, jazz extravaganzas and brilliant releases from seasoned artists, this year was filled with riveting new extended plays
10. Tre Ess – Sipping Off Troubled Waters
The producer-rapper sounds effortlessly cool and awoken
Hip-hop artists in India are just about beginning to understand how important it is to speak your truth and never sugarcoat it. But Sumit Singh Solanki aka Tre Ess from Jharkhand has a head start on the rest of the country thanks to Sipping Off Troubled Waters. In his throwdown of thoughts on everything from Naxalism to the corruption rotting India’s social, political and cultural systems, Tre Ess sounds effortlessly cool and awoken. As a producer, he’s even sharper, channeling a bit of Childish Gambino (“Troubled Waters”) and getting noisier (“Mei x Superpower by 2020”) and calling back his favorite singer Dheeraj for the powerful “Fakir.” – A.T.
9. Banat – Flish
A collection of sparkling melodies
Mumbai singer-songwriter Banat Kaur Bagga’s latest EP Flish is an honest chronicle of the heady mix of experiences that your early twenties unleash on you — there’s newfound wisdom, anguish, love and introspection with a dash of reckless abandon. The title track is fluid and buoyant, and manages to shine a light on Banat’s strengths as a storyteller and mood-crafter. The singer-songwriter might have a high benchmark to reach as a vocalist but if you look at the record as a whole, Flish is a collection of sparkling melodies. – N.S.
8. Demonstealer – And This Too Shall Pass
The seasoned multi-instrumentalist and producer is nowhere close to slowing down
He may be a one-man hype machine on social media, YouTube-famous food blogger and more, but Sahil Makhija is, after all, Demonstealer. The seasoned multi-instrumentalist and producer may have been non-committal about his band (extreme metallers Demonic Resurrection) for some time now, but he went full speed ahead with his solo project. On And This Too Shall Pass, there’s a message of devastation, failure and hysteria delivered through razor-sharp riffs (and a slow-burn clean vocals-led “From Flesh to Ashes”) and double-bass madness. 20 years on, Demonstealer is nowhere close to slowing down, at least as a metalhead. And we’ll take that. – A.T.
7. Bombay Brass – Bombay Brass
Bombay Brass’ four-track eponymous debut EP packs in strains from jazz, pop and funk
Led by saxophonist Rhys Sebastian, Mumbai horn outfit Bombay Brass also includes trombone player Ramon Ibrahim, trumpeter Robin Fargose and tenor saxophonist/flautist I.D. Rao as well as drummer Jehangir Jehangir, percussionist Vibhas Titu Rahul, guitarist Zohran Miranda, bassist Saurabh Suman and keyboardist Rahul Wadhwani. The group’s four-track eponymous debut EP packs in strains from jazz, pop and funk. There’s horn sections galore on almost every song while the record closer “Quegdevelim Sunset II” features silky keyboard work as well as a bit of rock and roll and a blistering guitar solo. – D.B.
6. Inalab – The Commons
The record is filled with gritty electronica tones juxtaposed with bashing grooves
Although Inalab started off as New Delhi bassist Gaurav Balani’s (from rockers Parikrama) collaborative project, over the last year the outfit has morphed into a full-fledged band. In addition to the bassist, the group now includes flautist Shashank Singhania, vocalist Shruti Dhasmana, keyboardist Archit Anand and drummer Suyash Gabriel. Their debut five-track EP The Commons opens with the robust “Bonzo.” The record then moves on to the glitchy title-track before working its way into the transcending “Tilikum.” The EP then simmers down for “Interlude” before the record closer “Unstoppable” takes a drastic sonic shift towards a more saccharine pop sound. Sonically the record is filled with gritty electronica tones juxtaposed with bashing grooves, melodic keyboard and flute work as well as soaring vocals. – D.B.
5. Celestial Teapot – Perception
The band offers a roving sound that barely settles down
After a few years rebuilding their sound, Pune instrumental rock band Celestial Teapot returns with a pounding level of confidence on Perception. Whether it’s in the surprisingly lofty keyboard movements or the wiry guitars that intersect with mammoth riffage on “Defgain,” the quintet continue to lead the way when it comes to evolving post-rock in India. Using a thematic narrative of a protagonist going through sensory and psychological disorders, the band offers a roving sound that barely settles down. – A.T.
4. Tarun Balani/Dharma – The Shape of Things to Come
Tarun Balani/Dharma tie in modern jazz elements along with indulgent production on the record
New Delhi drummer-producer Tarun Balani along with his jazz ensemble Dharma, comprising New York trumpeter Adam O’Farrill, Finnish guitarist Olli Hirvonen and synth player and keyboardist Sharik Hasan, tie in modern jazz elements along with indulgent production to craft the sublime five-track The Shape of Things to Come. The record’s opening 10-minute heady dosage of dynamism on “Dr. Escher” is a true sonic experience while “As We Lay Under the Trees” explores moody soundscapes. “Azaan” features delicate instrumentation whereas the title track includes dexterous movements and exceptional playing before the record closes with the genre-bending “2°.” – D.B.
3. Anoushka Maskey – C.E.A.S.E
Anoushka Maskey’s textured vocals and poignant lyricism standout
On her debut four-track EP, Mumbai/Sikkim singer-songwriter Anoushka Maskey introduced herself to the country’s independent music scene with aplomb. The record stemmed from the action-adventure game The Last of Us but the narrative changed to focus on environmental issues through the portrayal of a complacent protagonist. There’s spoken word on the opening track “Swansong” and the EP features Maskey’s acoustic and folk influences as well as her textured vocals and poignant lyricism while the record closer “Signal the Sirens” includes a heavy rock guitar-driven outro. – D.B.
2. Gabriel Daniel – definiens
In his quest for meaning and understanding, the artist arrives at a sprawling sound
Bengaluru/Chandigarh singer-songwriter Gabriel Daniel previously landed at a nimble indie/alt-rock sound on his 2018 album conflicting. At the center of it were stories of faith, struggle and hope. What he did across nine tracks a couple of years ago, Daniel packs into just two tracks in the quest for meaning and understanding. The best part of definiens isn’t just the artist’s vulnerable croon but how he’s leveled up as a producer. “A Lack Thereof” unfolds with lush instrumentation that’s often hidden, while “A Thought Complete” takes a lilting acoustic melody and expands it gigantically, proving that if any bedroom producer wanted, they could bring an orchestra for a cinematic rock song. – A.T.
1. Nikhil D’Souza – Waqt
For singer-songwriter Nikhil D’Souza, this record is an extremely personal interpretation of familiar phases in life
Mumbai-based singer-songwriter Nikhil D’Souza put out a number of releases this year which also included his four-track Hindi EP Waqt. The tracks on Waqt have all been written over the last year with D’Souza even finishing off the process during the lockdown. The EP opens with the plaintive “Thode Se Kam” and moves onto the poignant “Teri Tarah.” We then hear the slightly more amped up “Gaye Zamaane” before the acoustic ditty and record closer “Hairaan.” The lyrics for all four songs were penned by D’Souza’s frequent collaborator Pinky Poonawala. For the singer-songwriter, this record is an extremely personal interpretation of familiar phases in life. – D.B.