The music scene of Malayalam cinema saw a copious amount of quality songs and albums released throughout the year. The Malayalam industry continues to dominate the southern music output in standard as well as in numbers. Gopi Sundar, the busiest composer in Indian films lately, alone has contributed to over 14 soundtracks this year, just in Malayalam. M Jayachandran has contributed to seven soundtracks – sizable in absolute terms compared to counterparts in other Indian languages – but has outdone in quality. Notice the usage “contributed” here – the number of albums released this year where multiple composers pitched in is fairly large. Sushin Shyam’s debut year has proved exceptional with three lovely soundtracks.
Below, we rank albums released this year – film releases with a cut-off date of Dec 15, 2018. A remarkably large fraction of albums this year has at least one good song. This includes many albums by the likes of Gopi Sundar, Shaan Rahman, Rahul Raj, Jakes Bejoy and Ranjin Raj.
15. Rex Vijayan, Shahabaz Aman – Sudani From Nigeria
Rex Vijayan and Shahabaz Aman delivered a super-hit soundtrack in Mayaanadhi just at the end of 2017. This year, they come together again and deliver a shorter but rich soundtrack for Sudani From Nigeria.
It seems that the song ‘Kurrah’ was something Shahabaz had composed long before for a documentary. The version in the film is jointly produced by the two composers. The song is extremely effective with horns and whistles and plucks richly accompanying the song throughout. ‘Cherukadhapole’ must find an instant connect with pan-Indian listeners for it unmistakably evokes a landmark composition by AR Rahman in Swades. But there is nothing to take away from this song, it works just well notwithstanding. ‘Kinavu Kondu’ leverages a fantastic arrangement of strings.
Sudani From Nigeria may not match the earlier works of the composers, yet it stands tall among the albums this year.
Velakkariyayirunnalum Neeyen Mohavalli is an underrated album of the year, composed by Viswajith. The album consists of four songs, ranging from good to exceptional.
There is no doubt that the best song of the album, and a strong contender for the song-of-the-year, is ‘Kannaanthalir’. Vijay Yesudas soars in this sprawling immersive melody like no one else can. The vivid imagery of the song, the orchestration, the vulnerability in the singing and the nifty ‘Sakhiye’ phrases work greatly in favour. The other melody that is not as captivating but still works is ‘Oru Mayil Peeli’. The song can hardly go wrong when Madhu Balakrishnan is doing the vocals. The rustic, emotionally intense and drawn-out ‘Kunnolam’ has a charm of its own. The composer gets behind the mic for the short but aesthetically done ‘Dhoore Vaanil’.
The album is a compelling entry in this list, even if it is just for Viswajith and Vijay Yesudas conjuring up a trick.
Another young composer in the M-town, Ranjin Raj has composed 2 other albums this year. This includes the more popular Joseph for a standout song in the album. But Nithya Haritha Nayakan edges Joseph out, even if by a whisker.
The album opens with fantastic ‘Iniyum’ that has lovely, recurring percussive (almost in the Sufi territory) stretches. Hesham Abdul Wahab perhaps sings the classical part, a nice touch. ‘Kanakamulla’ is a fast-paced kuthu song that doesn’t hold attention often, but Jyotsna’s refreshing presence helps. ‘Makara Maasa’ is a textbook children’s song, backed by a kids ensemble, which at one point is graced by a lovely pipe. The soundtrack’s best is in safe hands, or rather voices, of the veteran duo MG Sreekumar and Sujatha Mohan. The song is a fantastic composition with some beautiful phrases in the charanam and rich flute pieces.
Nithya Haritha Nayakan has a lot of good things adding up to a loop-worthy album.
The latest in composer Sushin Shyam’s impressive and consistent run this year is Varathan. The album has three songs, that work quite beautifully together. The soundscape of this one is closer to Maradona than Rosapoo, the two other soundtracks by Sushin this year.
‘Puthiyoru Paathaiyil’ finds actor Nazriya Nazim behind the mic, and she fits very well here. The song is trippy, thanks to the punctuated drum beats and a meticulously stretched out singing. ‘Nee’ is also a slow melody with a groovy synth rhythm, Nazriya Nazim this time joins Sreenath Bhasi for a duet. ‘Oduvile Theeyayi’ is the best song of the lot, and plays like an ode to retro beats and structure (it even has a cheesy la la la interlude).
Sushin Shyam’s Varathan may not find many takers, but this soundtrack gets three on three quite right.
Ente Mezhuthiri Athazhangal is a seamless, immersive and unique soundtrack composed entirely by M Jayachandran this year. The album consists of five songs that come together cohesively.
All the five songs are solos. The songs are all slow-burner melodies. Above all, the album is singer Vijay Yesudas’s show all the way. A rarity in itself – an album consisting of all solos rendered by the same singer. Another interesting fact about the album – it includes a Tamil song ‘Oru Paarvaiyil’, which is an ode to a yesteryear Tamil song, which in itself was an ode to the iconic song ‘Lag Jaa Gale’ sung by Lata Mangeshkar. ‘Neela Neela Mizhakalo’ is another gorgeous track of the album that would feature in the top songs of the year.
The album clears any second thoughts on the year belonging to singer Vijay Yesudas.
The soundtrack of Vikadakumaran composed by Rahul Raj runs for barely eight minutes, with just two songs. This is not uncommon in Malayalam cinema though. But this is easily Rahul Raj’s best output this year (he worked in three other albums).
The first song ‘Kannum Kannum’ has a haunting tune; the song progression is brilliant and makes for an instant ear-worm. The way it hits the ‘Nee Ennile’ high and segues back to ‘Kannum Kannum’ is a brief goose-bump ride. The second song arranged as a Christian devotional song is also beautiful. Its lead singer Rimi Tomy is in a spirited form. The choir that chants the titular phrase evokes other songs but is effective all the same.
This is the shortest soundtrack in our list this year that easily edges out many longer ones.
Singer Sayanora Philip donned the composer hat for the first time in this year’s Kuttanpillayude Sivarathri. She produces a wonderful 4-song album and manages to package enjoyable compositions in the limited scope allowed by the ghost drama setting.
The first song ‘Chakka Paattu’ (song on jackfruit) is very much a lighter take on the narrative turn of the movie (jackfruit playing a crucial role). Set in a folk tune, the song is delivered with great enthusiasm by the lead singers. ‘Naadottukku’ gets better for many reasons: Job Kurian once again excelling in singing, the string arrangement and its calm-storm structure. ‘Ente Shivane’ (looks like the jackfruit makes an appearance again) makes for another interesting montage, this time with taking on a more melancholic tone. The remix which the composer herself sings could give the best indie studio songs a ride for their money.
Sayanora Philip makes a successful and, more importantly, a very aspiring debut in Kuttanpillayude Sivarathri.
The soundtrack of composer Kailas Menon’s only release this year, Theevandi, has become a huge hit. The album is a pretty rich with six songs and their karaoke versions. Aside, this is only one of the umpteen movies of the actor Tovino Thomas in our list this year.
The song that has topped streaming and all charts since its release is ‘Jeevamshamayi’. A reetigowla-based song doesn’t have to do much to get you hooked. The flute bits of the song and the terrific singing by Harishankar do the extra mile though. The duet version with Shreya Ghoshal is even more beautiful. The male duet ‘Maanathe Kanalaali’ is led by an army of percussion and powerful voices. ‘Thaa Thinnam’ is another fantastic track of the album that ace singer Job Kurian single-handedly carries through. ‘Oru Theepettikkum Venda’ brings out the fantastic singer in Anthony Daasan.
It is good to see Kailas Menon back after a long hiatus succeeding in Theevandi.
Of the four releases that composer Shaan Rahman had this year, My Story is the one that stands out (Aravindante Athidikal has a few standout songs though). The seven-song soundtrack works well partly owing to the great choices of singers.
Benny Dayal and Majari are clearly having a ball singing the infectious ‘Pathungi’. The album’s best is ‘Mizhi Mizhi’ that sees Shreya Ghoshal and Haricharan in a fine form. The song is a gentle glide. ‘Mayamanjeleri’ draws from a familiar open-your-wings-and-fly template, but singer Shakthisree makes sure to hold listener’s attention throughout. Of the two songs (and a remix) sung by Harib Hussain, ‘Aarunu Nee’ is mildly more engaging with its arrangement.
This is not Shaan Rahman’s year by any stretch, but he retains identity and holds the standard high in My Story.
Anjali Menon’s Koode is an instance where two composers, M Jayachandran and Raghu Dixit, came together to produce a wonderful soundtrack. The soundscape of the six-song album doesn’t show seem despite songs from the individuals carrying distinct stamps.
M Jayachandran’s consistent and impressive run this year saw a clear high in Koode. Both the songs composed by him are some of the year’s best. ‘Minnaminni’ blessed with a simple, beautiful tune also finds singer Abhay Jodhpurkar in a sublime form. The other song ‘Vaanaville’ is equally beautiful, the sax layering and the whistles adding much charm. Of the four songs composed by Raghu Dixit, the best is the title song sung by a sprightly Anne Amie (who is even more impressive in ‘Aararo’).
Whether it is her usual affiliate Gopi Sundar or not, we could bank on feeling the warmth in Anjali Menon’s movies vicariously via the soundscape.
The movie Poomaram that was in production for a long time finally got a theatrical release this year. The first song of the movie appeared more than two years ago. The most elaborate soundtrack in our list this year, the soundtrack has been worth the wait. The album has about 12 songs (no reliable track list anywhere, given the staggered release) by several composers.
Poomaram is a very encouraging instance of a successful musical where multiple composers pitching in – each with just one song. It is quite a feat they manage not to compromise on the integrity and the album at no point feels like patched-and-put-together. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Among the many picks of the album, ‘Kadavathoru Thoni’, composed by Gireesh Kuttan is a lilting tune, with an effortless Karthik singing. ‘Ini Oru Kaalathe’ composed by Leela Girikuttan, also sung by Karthik, is a breezy number with a simple arrangement working wonders. KS Chitra is part of two lovely songs. The brief montage in the movie ‘Pranayasaagaram’ is the best – Chitra’s voice doesn’t need the help of any instrumental backing here. ‘Desh Raga Thillana’ is just that, a beautifully sung classical number.
This is easily the most ear-friendly, accessible, diverse and musically rich album in our list.
Sushin Shyam makes a full-fledged composing debut in Maradona (he has co-composed in a couple of film music outings before). But his work is outstanding in this movie as well as the other two albums this year.
‘Varum Varum’ is a fantastic composition that Sushin himself sings. It is slow and moody, bearing an undercurrent of implacable agitation. Fejo renders ‘Aparaada Panka’, one of the better rap songs in Indian films lately. ‘Ee Raavil’ is another broody composition, with an interesting arrangement. The singer Nezer Ahmed comes across as husky, though it is not clear if that is by intent. ‘Nilapakshi’ comes in two emotions. The happy version is adequately charming, with the nasal humming and intricate vocal-instrumental play, and Neha Nair’s fantastic support. The sad version is very similar in arrangement (the difference between the versions isn’t as stark as they are entitled though). ‘Kaadhale’ is an engrossing composition led by the delicate, whispery tone of Sruthy Sasidharan.
In the highly competitive turf the Malayalam music scene is, thriving with young composers, Sushin Shyam is a definitive front-runner this year. Maradona is the prime evidence.
Composer Dawn Vincent gives a rapturous thematic soundtrack in Iblis. The four-song soundtrack is dramatic, playful and musically top-notch. The album beautifully sits within the adventure-comedy genre of the movie.
The best thing about the opening track titled gibberish ‘Mama Sa Bibo’ is exactly that – the four-singer ensemble sings the titular phrase like a chant, imbuing mystique and a magical quality. The same thing can be said of the entire song, which is a fun ride throughout. We must give it to Dawn Vincent to have chosen Naresh Iyer for ‘Bum Bum’, another fun phrase for a title. Naresh Iyer delivers the groovy song with perfection. The ride that is ‘Bum Bum’ extends into the next track ‘Bamba Bamba’ sung by Ashok Ponnapan. Ashok’s tone suits a teenager best on screen. The final song ‘Oronayi Onnonnayi’ is no less captivating, with a folk tune working in its favor.
Iblis is one of the most innovative soundtracks of the year – that also succeeds in evoking imaginative visuals.
Another singer turned composer Hesham Abdul Wahab dropped a whopping good soundtrack around mid-year. The 4-song soundtrack accompanies a film that didn’t take off well, Angane Njanum Premichu.
Hesham Wahab conjures up four brilliant tunes in the soundtrack, and tops it up with a great singer line-up. There are places in the soundtrack, that occasionally evoke a not-so-early AR Rahman. But all that works in favor, for the compositions, are full of heart and soul. The arrangement in ‘Snehithano’ is one such instance. The ‘muththey ponney’ phrase is an absolute beauty. ‘Panjara Kanavulla’ is another song that capitalizes on the surreal form of Vijay Yesudas. But the song is lovely even without the voice – it gets a beautiful instrumental (flute) version. ‘Paattonnu’ has its heart in the same place as ‘Panjara’, and the unique voice of Vaishnavu Gireesh helps. Job Kurian’s voice meets a great match in the ‘Sahana Sahana’ phrases of ‘Thodu Thodu’.
The songs all feel like cut from the same piece of cloth – Hesham Abdul Wahab’s work in this album is outstanding.
Aami is the best soundtrack that M Jayachandran was a part of in 2018. The album also gets richer thanks to the compositions by Taufiq Qureshi making a debut. The five-song album stays original and integral to the movie which is a biopic on the writer Kamala Das.
‘Neer Maathalappoo’ is a fantastic concoction by Jayachandran that imaginatively straddles rural Kerala and Bengali backdrop. The song enters a brief sojourn with Bengali verses that its singer Shreya Ghoshal breezes through, aided by Arnab Dutta. The other song by Jayachandran, ‘Pranayamayi Radha’, is easily his best composition in recent times. Shreya Ghoshal gets behind the mic again and her rendition is intoxicating. Vijay Yesudas gets another best of the year in this. The three songs by Qureshi are Ghazals penned by Gulzar. They add a new dimension to the soundtrack; Javed Ali has no issues rendering the beautiful compositions.
Aami is downright beautiful and our pick for album of the year.